Phoenix's detractors have been around since the Hohokam canals began to be cleared and reused in the late 1800s.

Awareness of the fate of the Hohokam never is too far from the minds of those contemplating the future of the Phoenix metroplex.

Andrew Ross
Wikimedia Commons/JOe Mabel
Andrew Ross
Roger Lidman, director of the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, in front of Hohokam ruins.
Ray Stern
Roger Lidman, director of the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, in front of Hohokam ruins.

But the notion of intolerably severe environmental and economic conditions that could result in a Hohokam-like abandonment of the area has picked up steam in the past few years, driven by the economic devastation of the Great Recession and the latest research about how climate change will affect the American Southwest.

Phoenix has become a symbol of the terrible toll of global warming. But far from its becoming the least sustainable city in the world, as Ross claims, Phoenix is one of the globe's most sustainable metro areas, for a variety of reasons.

One of the fastest-growing places in the United States, the Phoenix area's population has expanded so much and so quickly that growth itself is a scary problem. In 1960, the metro area contained about 726,000 residents. By 1985, it was 1.8 million. Today, it stands at about 4.3 million.

Perhaps the explosive growth makes it easy for some to imagine a similarly dramatic decline. After the boom times of the 1980s, environmentalists and critics of Valley social culture gained in strength as they preached against carelessness concerning water resources, pollution, over-development, lack of preservation of the natural landscape, dearth of an arts community, and soulless suburbs where people rarely get out of their vehicles.

These concerns still exist, and fear of economic and environmental collapse gives them a more urgent feel.

The recent recession's effects were acute here; property values were cut on average by 50 percent. Fortunes were lost, and many residents gave up on the place and moved out.

On top of that, books and articles published since the recession have taken the most dire predictions of climate scientists to heart, at the same time noting problems like the social discord wrought by local immigration enforcement.

The Phoenix-hating sentiments and predictions of calamity dovetail with the long-held belief by some environmentalists — author Edward Abbey comes to mind — that no large city should be here to begin with and that developers are destroying the Valley with the help of water and land prices kept cheap through artifice.

Pushback by local voices on the idea that Phoenix is doomed has been minimal. It's no longer fashionable, in the age of global warming, to suggest that Phoenix might be fine in the long run. Talk of solar power or wastewater reuse is acceptable in left-wing circles. But forget about large-scale projects that would all but ensure the sustainability of the area, such as nuclear power, desalination, and new reservoirs to capture rainwater and snowmelt.

Arizona State University's School of Sustainability, where you would expect to find consensus on Phoenix's long-term prospects, has been eerily silent on the matter. Talk to individual scholars and scientists at the school and you'll hear how optimistic they claim to be about the area's future, while they acknowledge that the myth of Phoenix as unsustainable seems to have pervaded the whole country.

The only person affiliated with ASU's sustainability institute to publicly counter the propaganda, Grady Gammage Jr., is a lawyer and part-time real estate developer, which may present a credibility problem for environmentalists. Gammage wrote a couple of op-eds for the Republic in recent years — one after the publication of Bird on Fire and another this year after deBuys' op-ed — defending the Valley's future.

Despite what Gammage thinks, experts at ASU and elsewhere in Arizona have failed to disabuse out-of-state sustainability zealots of the notion that Phoenix will all but be wiped off the face of the Earth. Even many locals have been duped.

One student at ASU's sustainability school expressed amazement after learning in class one day this year that Phoenix has a robust, diverse water supply likely to support population growth for decades to come.

"I never knew that!" she gushed.

On the whole, Arizona is watered by three main sources: State river water maintained in reservoirs, Central Arizona Project water from the Colorado River, and underground water. A fourth source in increasing use is reclaimed wastewater. All the water used by municipalities combined amounts to less than 25 percent of that used by the entire state, while 70 percent supplies agriculture. As experts have noted over the years, shifting the water supply from farms to homes will buy Arizona a lot of time.

Perhaps the most important statistics related to the region's sustainability are population-growth projections. Long-term mobility trends in the United States, plus the idea that the Phoenix area is seen as a desirable place to live, mean that millions of people will move here in the next three decades.

Questions about the Valley's sustainability arise only because of the many years of abounding success predicted to lie ahead.

The prospects of Phoenix even look good for the far future — considering that certain scientists warn that global warming eventually will cause New York, Seattle, and other coastal cities to be flooded by rising seas.


Hohokam is a Pima word meaning "those who vanished."

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8 comments
johnnymorales1
johnnymorales1

If people ever accept building homes mostly underground with only skylights or a single room above ground then Phoenix will have no problem surviving.


Building underground doesn't require digging deep holes. Homes could still be built above ground for the most part with waterproof materials Etc., and then have dirt heaped around them.


The result if creatively managed would be a collection of hills but with windows and various other decorations that could still be built on the outside just like we do with houses.


The other alternative would be to opt for a building homes using giant quarry blocks instead of the thin walls we currently build and do away with wood entirely for exterior wall construction save for interior home design. 


Developments could take on the look of mini-Petras.


It's our obsession with having a home fully above ground designed with the Midwestern climate in mind, completely exposed to the elements that requires such heavy resource utilization.


Sure we have great insulation today, but it would be completely unnecessary if most of the house we build was underground underground.

.

By keeping most construction underground, the land would not contribute to higher temperatures via hot concrete and asphalt. 

Runoff would be allowed to return to a more natural form and nurture the land replenish the water table like it used to rather than rushing off into the concrete drainage system.

maxplanck0
maxplanck0

It remains to be seen if the groundswell of new immigrants will tolerate the intensity and duration of the summers here. Yes, they have in the past but not everyone makes the transition of their initial summer, "trial by fire." I did, but that was in years past, when Baseline Road was still 2 lanes and populated with citrus groves.

John Cady
John Cady

Where are the breasts though?

Judy Hedding
Judy Hedding

Wow. Five posts in a row without any breasts.

Anita Mahaffey
Anita Mahaffey

The damage is more likely to occur because of the crumbling infrastructure. The Phoenix Metropolitan Area, and especially Mesa, are ignoring the immediate needs of the community. SRP, the County, and the State are "helpless," due to budget constraints. The City of Mesa Mayor's Office is happy to let the existing community languish, while they look for opportunities for new development. The desert, and it's natural inhabitants can't take much more of this abuse, not to mention that the citizenry and law enforcement and safety officials are in constant danger.

DNichols
DNichols

Thank goodness satelite guided Jet Drones are spraying various "Chemtrails" over Metro Phoenix 24/7 to block out U.V. rays, and lower the surface temperature.

Look up People due to this Phony "High Cloud" spraying the temperatures in Phoenix are being manipulated, and are about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than they would be otherwise.

We are countering the adverse effects of man made pollution with yet further man made pollution.

The main "Chemtrails" being sprayed in the air we must breathe now is White Aresol,the more they spray the lower our visibility.

Look around at the White air pollution that matches the color of the "Chemtrails."

This "Chemtrail" spraying will slow the effects of Global Warming for a few more years, however with out it plant life in Phoenix would already be adversly effected.

Look up people it is easy to see if you have both eyes, and an open mind to see reality.

Lockhead Martin had a TV commercial showing a satelite, then the cloud covered Earth, and called it "Climate Control."

Down side to "Chemtrails is Heart Disease, Lung Disease, COPD, Alzhiemners, Dementia, Breast Cancer, and many other Cancers, and Diseases.

 
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