Dear Governor Ducey,
Happy autumn! We’re in the dry season now, although we did just leave a dry season up here in Flagstaff. It might rain today. It might not. I’ve never experienced such a devastatingly dry monsoon season. But then, I've heard it rained plenty in the White Mountains. North of Route 66. In Tucson. Even parts of Phoenix. It’s like the opposite of that Peanuts cartoon where the cloud follows Charlie Brown everywhere. The sun is following me. Still, it doesn’t seem normal. It was hot this summer in Flagstaff. But not as hot as Phoenix, which might explain why the traffic up here is so much worse than usual.
Hottest. Driest. Superlatives begin to set the new normal. Every time it’s a little hotter, that temperature gets absorbed into the “normal” temperature. Monsoon season becomes less a season and more an occasional storm and what we mean by monsoon season changes definition.
I met with Fred Duvall, currently a regent for the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system. We talked about growth—how Flagstaff is bursting at the seams, how NAU has doubled in size, how that kind of growth will be hard to sustain. We talked a lot about the word "sustain," which, as I am always bludgeoning you with a reminder of my book title, Sustainability: A Love Story, you know that I find to be a particularly prismatic word. Like I say in the book, sustainability isn’t the same thing to the crawfish as it is to the otter. Growth is a word like sustainability. It can sound so good and yet has different meanings. NAU has grown, but can it sustain that growth pattern? If so, can Flagstaff handle that growth? It is gratifying to see people in power paying attention to sustainability, even if they don’t mean it in the way that I mean it—that this raising temperature, lessening precipitation situation isn’t sustainable. It’s not only student growth. While Phoenix grows for its sunny days and low income taxes, Flagstaff grows as people take refuge from the too-much-sun.
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I feel you and I are in a strange place of too much and not enough. Perhaps what was once meant by the word “normal” was a sense of the right amount of too much and not enough. In what my co-writer David Carlin and I call “The After-Normal,” it’s hard to have a sense of what was normal. What seemed stable and balanced now feels like a constantly teetering hoverboard. It seemed almost normal, then, when you added two seats to the Arizona Supreme Court, because, hey, you’re in charge and that’s what governors do—they stack the deck in their favor. Then, you appointed Bill Montgomery, an arch conservative who opposes LGBTQIA rights and supports the drug war and increased incarceration. Perhaps, because things are so wobbly, it’s hard to see that, although the constitution requires the Arizona Supreme Court nominating commission to have equal number Republicans and Democrats, it currently has no Democrats and its Independent members have deep ties to the Republican Party. Because it’s not enough that gerrymandering is so egregious that my state representative represents some of Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo and Gila Counties. Just as the dark money that fosters the campaigns of so many politicians in this state, the attempt to entrench permanent political power grows.
But, as Duvall made clear, you can manage growth. You can prepare for it, adjust for it, even adjust the rate and kind by thoughtful preparation. As if to underscore his point, I just read that the City of Flagstaff received an award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association for the Flagstaff Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. To be ahead of growth is how to mitigate its bad effects.
The consequences of growth and expansion and resource use are sometimes hard to predict. Unchecked growth is another word for cancer but checking comes, one way or another. Either some balance returns and the cancer is put in remission or the cancer takes over and the system collapses. They say if it does rain today, the storm could be dangerous. The rain, when it comes, comes heavy and hard. Mudslides and flooding, damaging winds and hail. It’s like the forest here, in clamoring for a sip of water, gets slapped upside the head for asking for anything. But there are chemotherapies available—voting, climate striking, outlawing dark money— that can return the too-much to normal.