Tag Archives: WATER

Fridays for the Future #6 — Phoenix/Tucson the most unsustainable: It’s about water

Tomorrow I leave with MCC on a pilgrimage to the “borderlands” in Arizona. It is a well-worn trail blazed by caring advocates over decades, most recently by the former Director of MCCUS, Ron Byler.

My parents used to live in Arizona, right on Lake Havasu. To get to their mobile home we had to cross the famous London Bridge. Industrialist Robert Paxton McCulloch bought the bridge from London in the 60’s when the city was going to replace it and reassembled it in the middle of nowhere. Now it is one of Arizona’s main tourist attractions.

Lake Havasu. My parents lived on that island in the bottom right corner.

Talk about infrastructure projects!

Lake Havasu is a gigantic reservoir backing up behind Parker Dam, a project of the Bureau of Reclamation between 1934 and 1938. The dam builders had to dig down so far to reach a bedrock foundation, Parker became the deepest dam in the world. The reservoir holds water for two of the desert-defying aqueducts that make Southern California and Southern Arizona possible

The Colorado River Aqueduct feeding Southern California, where I grew up, was created by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium of eleven cities, including Los Angeles, Burbank, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Anaheim and San Bernardino. The cities joined together to ensure a water supply for their booming communities, which had everything a paradise could want, except adequate water. It is quite a feat which includes the 13-mile-long San Jacinto Tunnel, which took six years to build.

The  Central Arizona Project Aqueduct came later after Arizona gained access to the lake through court battles. The backbone of the aqueduct system runs about 336 miles from Lake Havasu to a terminus southwest of Tucson. They called it complete in 1993 even though it has yet to supply water to several Native American distribution systems.

Unsustainable desert cities

Every time we flew into Las Vegas to get our rental car to drive to “Havasu,” I am pretty sure I said, “What in the world is that city doing there?” Without the giant Hoover Dam creating Lake Mead (also damming the Colorado River) the Luxor Pyramid and those miles of tract homes would be impossible.  None of the cities of the Southwest are sustainable with only their local water resources which are now only trickles, for the most part.

Phoenix seems even worse than Las Vegas.  In his 2011 book Bird on Fire, the NYU sociologist Andrew Ross branded Phoenix the least sustainable city in the world [see Guardian article]. But it kept growing. In 2017 Phoenix passed Philadelphia to become the fifth largest U.S. city.  Due to climate change, external water resources are becoming even more unreliable. The Colorado River is drying up. The Western drought has been in the news for the past five years. Westerners were thrilled last week when a bomb cyclone storm dumped snow on the Sierras and promised some water for their reservoirs. The snow in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Colorado River, has been up to 70% lower than average, recently. Flights out of Phoenix airport have been grounded because of the extraordinary heat (which is saying something in Phoenix!)– after 116F officials have to make a judgment call about whether the air too thin to take off safely. Putting an urban “heat island” in the middle of desert keeps Phoenix even hotter. Living in Southern Arizona is living on the leading edge of climate change disaster.

The way the U.S. does capitalism makes endless sprawl seem reasonable even if water sources to not presently support it. So Bill Gates purchased land outside Buckeye a few years ago, 36 miles from downtown Phoenix,  with plans to build a smart city the size of Tempe. More cars, more electricity, more waste and a need for more water.

Navajo generating station

Greater Phoenix is good at recycling waste water, but most of it is used for cooling the Palo Verde nuclear power plant to the west of the city, the largest in the US and the only one not on its own body of water. But on the other side of the ecological balance is the fact that the water department is Arizona’s biggest electricity consumer, mainly because it has to pump the water uphill from the Colorado River along miles of canals into Phoenix and Tucson. Most of the electricity it uses comes from the heavily polluting, coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in the north of the state.

The new eco-apartheid

I will spend the night in my brother’s gated community near Tucson. So I will get the feel for how the wealthier people experience the Arizona Sun Corridor. I hope I don’t have an Elysium flashback when I head south toward the border.

Andrew Ross warns of an “eco-apartheid,” whereby low-income neighborhoods on the more polluted south side of the Salt River (which once flowed vigorously through the city of Phoenix and is now a rivulet) are less able to protect themselves from the heat and drought than wealthier citizens. “There’s a stark disparity,” he says. “The resource havens, with their hybrid cars, their solar panels and other green gizmos; and the folks on the other side struggling to breathe clean air and drink uncontaminated water. It’s a prediction of where the world is headed.” I was reminded of moving to San Diego and experiencing to change in atmosphere between desertified Tijuana and water-sprinkled San Diego.

Maybe the handwriting has been on Arizona’s wall for a long time. Ross tells about the Native people named “Hohokam” (“used up”) by archaeologists. They were the original irrigators of the Arizona Sun Corridor. Their society, numbering an estimated 40,000, collapsed in the 1400’s right before the Spanish arrived. Researchers generally believe their advanced civilization fell apart over power struggles related to scarce water.

Climate change is going to result in more immigrants showing up at the border, more income disparity, and more fighting. Our era is an important one for Christians to build resilient communities that not only survive but help others thrive.



Living Water for climate change action: The parable of the pines

A cheerful forest ranger told us amazing and troubling facts about the giant Sequoia trees we visited last week. She told us Native Americans knew how Sequoia reproduction worked, requiring fire to melt the seed cone’s covering and ash for a seedling’s first meal — but the “pioneers” ignored the natives, or did not bother to ask. The western states still haven’t become devoted to sustainable forest management.

Click pic for Fresno Bee article

That was not the most troubling part of the ranger’s talk, however. She added a line or two about climate change that kind of made me sick to my stomach. The striking landscape of the Sierras is somewhat despoiled by dead pine trees, as in the picture above. I could see the same thing if I went to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. But those gray skeletons really stick out in my native California. Where are the trees of my youth? The bark beetles attacked them and killed them. You can read about the beetles here.

To my horror, I found out climate change (NYTimes link) is finally attacking the giant Sequoias, in like fashion, even though they have adapted and endured for centuries. A few of them might be over 2000 years old! They have withstood pests, fire and people, until now. The horrible air pollution of the Central Valley of California is ruining the air they breathe at 6000 feet! What is worse, the warming climate brings new opportunity for bugs seeking to colonize new trees. The drought in California weakens the amazing Sequoias. They can withstand periods of dryness but not what has happened for the last twenty years.  The bugs are just beginning to discover how weak they are after centuries of being remarkably impervious to insects.

I came away with a parable the trees told me. The story I hear is: Once there were trees planted by the water. They flourished. Humans disrupted the natural flow, even the cycle of the earth, and the land became dryer and dryer. The trees became susceptible to destruction by opportunistic forces. So it is with a people. So it is with a person who is not replenished with Living Water.

We need to act

My first application of this parable is to devote myself to advocating real action to reverse the processes that have warmed the climate. Like the NYTimes article linked above reports, we can’t stop the climate from warming a degree more; it’s going to happen. But we could stave off further catastrophe. If there is any reason to be born in the American Empire, it must be to demand that every power possible is exerted to save humankind from being weeded out like a pine forest. Covid-19 could just be the beginning of the disasters we face.

My starting place for action is the church, since that is where I find the faith, hope and love to do something, not just talk about it. The church is experiencing something of a post-Covid climate change of its own these days, in general, in which people mostly fight rather than find reconciled ways to act. But I don’t have another place to go since it is the body of Christ. That ecosystem is the most resilient and adaptable society on the planet so I trust it will survive the 20’s.

After the church, I have been looking for action-oriented groups with whom to partner. I can at least give them money, although I intend to give them more time and love. MCC has been attending to the need for years. I have been asking around and have begun to zero in on further good groups (see the comments for a few of them). I wish there were more. Big Christian organizations, big non-profits and governments all have an underfunded department, it seems, that pays lip service to climate change while the institution keeps talking about itself. Didn’t Donald Trump raise $100 million in the first quarter to keep blaming immigrants for the virus spike in Florida? (He decamped to New Jersey, of course, abandoning Mar-a-Lago). That’s an extreme example of talking about yourself. If you have a favorite association please add it to the comments so we can get busy!

We need Living Water

My second application of the parable is to check my bark and inspect my loved ones for signs of distress. When my ficus tree showed scale, the first treatment offered was “make sure you are properly watering  the tree.” Being well-watered is the tree’s first defense. This truth directly applies to the spiritual life that sustains direct action in a pestilence-ridden world.

  • If you are a fellow psychotherapist, you are dealing with traumas that will wear you out if you are not sustained spiritually. This does not mean listening to a podcast at the gym or procuring a proper thought somewhere; it means enjoying direct access to Living Water. You are involved in a spiritual restoration project with every client and it requires spiritual resources.
  • If you are a Jesus follower (as many of my clients are, as well as my directees), we need to pray. So many of us read a book, listen to a speech, or do things that require headphones and call that a personal spiritual life. It is not enough. Those habits, on their own, cause spiritual drought. All that learning and relating to wise people is good. But if it does not lead to our own relationship with God in real time, it is more like living in a polluted atmosphere of overheated thought instead of resting in the cooling, restorative Living Water. I think my “life in the spirit” category in the right column could provide further, practical help.

What do I do when I find beetles laying eggs in my weakened spiritual bark?

First, I need to look for them and not assume having little water and being bug-infested is normal. The world allowed millions of the trees it did not cut down to be killed by climate change. We are also susceptible to such destructive forces and need to fight for our lives inside and out. We have choices we can make. Even if they are small ones, they add up.

Second, I can stop cooperating with people and institutions that suck the living water out of me until I can gain enough strength to go back and provide some water. Married couples I counsel often refuse to admit that they can individually change the terrible dance they dance with their partner simply by refusing to mirror their partner’s steps! Change the pattern, turn into something better even if the present regime cries foul.

Third, I must spend enough time with God so my roots actually soak up living water. Like a tree, yesterday’s drink does not last forever. Our spiritual lives are organic like that; we need living water sources to live. We are often told our bodies are 90% water. In spiritual terms I’d say we are 100% living water and 100% organic or we are less than fully alive.

Fourth, I can fight off the bugs. We stand up against death in as many ways as we are all unique. Sometimes we get together like an army. I’m looking to join up with allies right now to advocate for effective action on climate change so my grandchildren have a habitable planet and so I do not disgrace myself before my Creator by doing nothing. I won’t be waiting until I am sure I am taking perfect action before I take some steps. This post is me taking a step in the way I do. But I will find even better ways to make alliances and act. When we take action, we solidify our good intention into real attention. Who and what we attend to makes a big difference as to who we are becoming and what we can do.

This past week I attended to myself, my family and the Sequoias. God was in the midst. Turning that way turned on some light and illuminated further steps along the way to wholeness. God bless you on your own journey into what is next.

Share what you know in the comments please.