WELC Blog: Building Community and Ecological Resiliency

I encourage you to read a fascinating if terrifying essay by William deBuys, a respected writer and thinker from my neck of the woods, northern New Mexico. His piece printed in Grist—The Least Sustainable City: Phoenix as a harbinger for our hot future—provides a grim reality check to our country’s too slow transition away from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy and too slow action to improve the resiliency of our built and natural environment to account for massive climate disruption.

As deBuys writes, exemplifying the amplifying role of climate disruption to Phoenix:

The nation’s 13th largest metropolitan area (nudging out Detroit) crams 4.3 million people into a low bowl in a hot desert, where horrific heat waves and windstorms visit it regularly. It snuggles next to the nation’s largest nuclear plant and, having exhausted local sources, it depends on an improbable infrastructure to suck water from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.

In Phoenix, you don’t ask: What could go wrong? You ask: What couldn’t?

And that’s the point, really. Phoenix’s multiple vulnerabilities, which are plenty daunting taken one by one, have the capacity to magnify one another, like compounding illnesses. In this regard, it’s a quintessentially modern city, a pyramid of complexities requiring large energy inputs to keep the whole apparatus humming. 

Running through a litany of water, wildfire, windstorm, and heat woes, deBuys doesn’t leave you thinking “Phoenix is a great place to live!” The kicker, though, is deBuys’ smart if sobering perspective on Phoenix’s community or, more accurately, it’s “divided” community. As deBuys’ writes, “communities that do not pull together fail to surmount their challenges.” 

I’m not comfortable with this conclusion because it signals a broader condemnation of our country’s political and social system. But it’s also a conclusion that is difficult to deny. 

The hope that we can extract from deBuys’ article is this: we have a choice. That is, we have a choice to continue on our business-as-usual trajectory or to take thoughtful, aggressive action to chart a new path that will ensure a rapid transition away from the destructive forces of fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy from the sun and wind. 

Of course, given the unsettling reality that we are now living with climate change and the wicked disruption that it is causing, we’re also going to have to seriously build the resiliency of our communities and the broader landscapes that they rest within. This means building decision-making frameworks that ensure our footprint on this fair planet does not undermine, but in fact helps protect, the planet’s ecological structure, function, and composition. And it also means that we’re going to have to think hard about our own ossified and weak governing institutions, and craft and implement plans for revitalizing our democracy.

At WELC, transitioning to a clean, renewable energy and building the resiliency of our communities and landscapes—as well as our democracy through the development and defense of our legal system—is our life’s work. Hard work. Good work. Necessary work.

So while the reality of climate change may seem dire, we still have a choice—a choice that we, at WELC, have made. A choice to forge a more beautiful, just, and durable world. 

Blog Profile

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich

Erik was appointed Executive Director in 2012. He joined WELC as an attorney in 2003 and has worked to safeguard our climate from dirty fossil fuels, promote our transition to the efficient use of carbon free, renewable energy, and protect the American West’s rivers and wildlands. Before taking over the reins, Erik served as both the director of the Southwest office (Taos, N.M.) and of WELC's Climate & Energy Program. Prior to joining WELC, he worked for The Wilderness Society as an attorney on public lands issues. Erik is a graduate of Cornell University with a B.S. in Natural Resources, and earned his law degree and an Environmental and Natural Resources Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law. Erik works from our Southwest Office, 575-751-0351 x 137.

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This blog explores inside information from WELC's smart, dedicated attorneys, scientists and policy experts who have committed their lives to defending the American West. Our experts take their unique knowledge, mix it with long hours of reflection in the saddle of a bicycle, hiking a long & winding trail, paddling a river, or skiing the mountains and share with you their insights and perspectives. We hope you enjoy the results!