Don't be too self-righteous

 

Many years ago, in an interesting turn of events, I found myself in the same truck (mine) as a famous environmental writer. I can take no personal credit for her presence there; she was speaking that evening at a literary event sponsored by a local college. A good friend of mine was organizing the event and was much occupied with preparations, so he pressed my spouse and me into giving the famed personage a ride from her hotel to the college. Of course, I was flattered at the opportunity to meet her but also a bit flustered, as I usually am around people I admire. As we drove through the outer Phoenix suburbs, the writer commented on all the newly constructed offices and shopping centers we were passing. I replied that the area had seen extensive growth in recent years, and that, unfortunately, some of the particularly lovely foothills desert nearby had been bulldozed in order to accommodate the infrastructure needed by the new residents. At this, the author turned to me and asked, coolly, “how long have you lived here?”

Ouch! I answered her (“since 1965”), but I also felt the sting of the implied rebuke. Somebody had bulldozed some desert to make room for me, too. Point taken. Luckily we arrived at the event soon after, so I didn’t have any more opportunities to put my foot in it.

I think of that interchange often when the subject of southwestern population growth comes up. Understanding this complex phenomenon requires considerable geographic, economic, and sociological expertise, but even a layperson like me can make out some broad outlines. For one, the recession has added new wrinkles to the old demographic pattern of robust retiree and warmth-seeker influx in states like Arizona and Nevada and it will take awhile for the full effects to be known. In the meantime, much tardy lip-service has been given to the need for moving regional economies away from sole reliance on growth and for preserving what’s left of our water, air, and open spaces. On one level, slower growth makes sustainability initiatives like these seem more feasible. On another level, however, the transition does not come without considerable misery. Macro-analysis of foreclosure figures, in, for example, New Mexico, may reveal significant data about population trends but does not mitigate the heart-breaking, real-world consequences of the 9000 people per year who have lost their homes there.

Those of us who have somehow been able to hang on to our homes and jobs in the west can’t afford to be too smug about seeing fewer “planned communities” or Starbucks encroaching on our favorite hiking areas. As the distinguished writer reminded me on that evening so many years ago, I’m also a part of the problem. For that matter, so is she; she lives in a fashionable corner of a nearby state.  Still, if her eloquent words and those of other nature writers and journalists can inspire us to make sustainability personal – both in the abstract and in the hum-drum – then they’ve earned their keep.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University.

High Country News Classifieds
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...