Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What Kind of Climate Champion Are You?

There are all kinds of cool actions we can choose from to ensure a more resilient future here in the desert. 

If you're wondering what you can do, here is a sampling of champions and many types of actions we can take. Check out this list and decide which actions to include in your daily routine. Mix and match. Or come up with your own.

By living a sustainable lifestyle you become an inspiration to your neighbors and friends.  It's time for a paradigm shift in our society. And that starts with our actions and walking the talk. What kind of Climate Champion are you? 

Desert Adapted Gardeners

This rebel gardener bucks the system by growing fresh local edibles that don't require fossil fuels to package them or transport them. The Desert Adapted Gardener promotes food resiliency while conserving the desert's most precious resource, water.

Some examples of what Desert Adapted Gardeners do:
  • Sow low-water heritage seeds/fruit trees and edible native trees.
  • Implement earthworks, greywater and rainwater harvesting
  • Use low-water methods: ollas, cardboard covering and organic mulch to hold the moisture
  • Enrich soil with local compost and mulch
  • Regenerative and no-till farming techniques  
  • Position complimentary plants nearby to keep away pests. enrich the soil or attract pollinators. 
  • Keep chickens for poop to fertilize the garden and because chickens eat pests 
  • Refrain from using herbicides and pesticides that kill the soil and seeps into our ground water 
Composting food scraps keeps them out of our landfills. At the landfill, food and yard waste  release methane, a greenhouse gas that's 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Compost is a natural way to nourish our gardens without nitrogen fertilizer made from fossil fuels. 

Regenerative agriculture harnesses the relationships between plants and soil microbes to pull excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in plants and soils where it is a useful nutrient for farmers.

Local First Shoppers

Local First Shoppers lower their carbon footprint by purchasing fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers and gardeners. They keep their shopping dollars in the local economy by shopping at local businesses whenever possible.

Imported non-local ingredients can require up to four times the energy of an equivalent locally sourced diet.. The typical meal in the U.S. currently travels anywhere from 1,200 to 2,500 miles from pasture to plate.

Buying local has a strong multiplier effect in the economy in addition to reducing the transportation carbon footprint. A 10% increase in purchasing from locally owned businesses in lieu of national chain stores would yield nearly $200 million in incremental major metropolitan area economic activity and create 1,300 new jobs each year. A dollar spent on local products and services can circulate in the local community up to 15 times.

Some examples of what Local First Shoppers do:
  • Shop for local produce at farmers markets, Co-op, & Community Supported Agriculture
  • Support local artists by purchasing their work at gift giving time
  • Shop at locally owned thrift stores and repurpose shops 
  • Dine out at local restaurants and brewpubs that use locally sourced ingredients
  • Bank at local credit unions that have divested from fossil fuels
  • Purchase Zero Waste Products from local businesses
  • Shop at local bakeries that use native ingredients
  • Avoid products made with palm oil to protect the Rainforest 
  • Shop at businesses that have adopted low-water and energy efficiency features 
  • Rent apartments that use rainwater to irrigate native landscaping and gardens
  • Show support of local businesses by using cash instead of credit 
Local restaurants and businesses create a sense of place and community that makes Tucson a town that people are proud to call home.

Zero Waste Shoppers 

How we shop has a huge impact on the planet. Zero Waste Shoppers try to avoid purchasing products in single-use plastic or Styrofoam. They also use less paper products in order to save trees that sequester carbon. 

Their sustainable lifestyle is an example of how we can transition from a wasteful consumer lifestyle. The goal is to cut back on the manufacturing of single-use plastic that is made from, produced and transported with fossil fuels. The container is used for a moment and then ends up in overflowing landfills (that produce carbon dioxide and methane) and often ends up in our oceans where it is consumed by sea critters. It has been said that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. Even recycling requires energy, though not as much as mining and then manufacturing new items.

Striving for a Zero Waste lifestyle includes following the 7 R's: Refuse, Reuse, Return, Repair, Repurpose, Recycle, Rot

Some examples of what Zero Waste Shoppers do:
  • Tote reusable grocery and produce bags to the grocery store or farmers market
  • Bring a reusable water bottle everywhere
  • Reuse glass jars to store food
  • Replace paper products with reusable napkins and scraps of cloth to save trees 
  • Avoid plastic packaging by bringing cloth bags and glass jars when buying bulk
  • Get jars tared (weighed) at the check out counter before refilling with peanut butter
  • Bring reusable takeout containers and silverware to restaurants
  • Refuse to take plastic silverware when getting take out
  • Dine at restaurants and food trucks that provide compostable takeout containers 
  • Repair appliances rather than purchasing new ones
    • Sustainable Tucson's Zero Waste Group started a Repair Cafe! 
  • Wear hand-me-down or thrift shop clothes and accessories
  • Buy quality clothes that can be mended rather than fast fashion that ends up in landfill
  • Resist impulse buys of cheap plastic products
  • Cook ugly produce and compost food waste
  • Harvest the fruit from their fruit trees and share it with a neighbor. 
  • Buy products made from produce rescued by Iskashitaa Refugee Network
  • Stop dying hair with chemicals
  • Shave with reusable razors rather than disposable shavers 
  • Shop at thrift stores
  • Recycle as a last resort, but recycle properly
  • Join the conversation at Zero Waste Tucson
  • For trash that can't be prevented or recycled in the city recycle bins:
    • Pack glass in reused cardboard boxes before bringing it to the various drop off points to be ground into sand. 
    • Pack plastic in reused or recycled plastic bags (not heavy duty plastic bags that add to the problem) before bringing it to the ward 6 or 4 offices to be made into plastic blocks.  

Vegetarians for the Planet

One reason that Vegetarians for the Planet have stopped eating meat is to cut down on carbon and methane emissions (and because they love animals, of course.) Vegetarian-only diets generate up to a whopping 42% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and lead to dramatically lower overall environmental impacts compared to non-vegetarian diets.

The rapid growth of animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation. 70% of the Amazon Rainforest has already been destroyed and is now occupied by pastures and feed crops. One of the main crops grown in the rainforest is soybeans used specifically for animal feed. We need to protect those ancient trees because they sequester carbon and make the air we breath. The Rainforest has been called the lungs of the earth.  (Not to mention all the biodiversity and wildlife habitats that are being lost.)

The area needed for animals to graze and grow feed is huge. It takes up about 80% of all agricultural land. Researchers found that the switch to plant-based diets would reduce annual agricultural production emissions by 61%. Additionally, converting former cropland and pastures to their natural state would remove another 98.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the end of the century.

Those eating a mostly plant-based diet with some sustainably produced beef

I realize that not everyone is ready to give up their juicy burgers. But if everyone cut back on their beef consumption, it would have a huge impact. Also, eating sustainably sourced beef can actually be good for the planet. New research has shown the benefits of rotational grazing to offset greenhouse grass emissions. 

A 2018 study by researchers in Michigan and Washington, D.C., entitled "Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems," showed that intensive, rotational grazing could offset greenhouse gas emission through carbon sequestration that will result to a carbon sink. The researchers noted that grasslands could become highly efficient carbon sequesters that can be maximized using management practices for livestock grazing.

When it comes to agriculture, animal agriculture is the biggest water depleter. It generally takes over 20 times more water to produce a pound of beef compared to rice, grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. In the United States, it takes almost 1,800 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. The majority of the water that it takes to produce meat is used to irrigate the land that is growing their feed.

Livestock production uses around 80% of the world’s agricultural land, but only provides 18% of the calories consumed by humans. Grass-fed beef  requires vast areas of land whether it’s irrigated by rainfall or sprinklers. Even grassland uses large amounts of water.

With livestock, you’re getting nutrients second-hand instead of directly from the source (the plants fed to those animals).
Water Conservers

Water is a precious resource in the desert - especially after a 27+ year drought and with climate change looming. Our main water source, Colorado River Water is pumped 326 miles to Tucson in Central Arizona Project (CAP) canals. Coal powers those pumps.

Water Conservers are conscious of the water they use and aim to save it.

Some examples of what Water Conservers do:
  • Turn off the tap when brushing their teeth or shampooing hair
  • Conserve water by using the same water more than once
  • Pour dishwater on compost pits or bushes
  • Soak recyclables in dirty dishwater
  • Put a bucket in the shower to collect water while it is heating up
  • Take showers outdoors to water landscaping 
  • Use greywater from washing machine to water trees
  • Replace lawn with desert landscaping
  • Fix leaky toilets
  • Replace high-water-use appliances with water-efficient appliances
  • Install low-flow toilets
  • Use composting toilets

Tree Planters

By planting and maintaining low-water native trees or desert-adapted heritage fruit trees, Tree Planters create a lovely, shady oasis in their own yard that cools their house in the summer and lowers heating costs in the winter. To be sustainable in our desert, they install and maintain rainwater harvesting basins to water trees in right of ways and yards. 

Tree Planters plant trees in parks, community gardens and along neighborhood sidewalks to create cool community gathering places. They plant trees along washes and rivers to restore the flow and create wildlife habitats.  They plant trees to shade bike paths, sidewalks and bus stops to encourage people to use alternate forms of transportation.

Some examples of what Tree Planters do:
In addition to cooling our communities, trees sequester carbon to fight climate change and help with air quality by intercepting air-born particles. Mayor Regina Romero is a tree planter too! Check out the Mayor's Million Trees program. Many organizations including Trees for Tucson supply trees and advice on how to care for them. Sustainable Tucson started a committee that encourages tree planting with rainwater harvesting at charitable and faith-based organizations' property!

Water Harvesters

Rainwater Harvesters work on water security in the desert by making the most of our rainfall. Greywater Harvesters supplement that by reusing water from washing machines and condensation from air-conditioners.

Some examples of what Water Harvesters do: 
  • Dig the plastic and gravel out of their yards so the water can sink in 
  • Install catchment basins and cisterns to keep the rainwater in their yards to irrigate native trees, desert landscaping and gardens
  • Reuse greywater from washing machines to water drought-tolerant heritage fruit trees
  • Use the condensation from air-conditioners to help water heritage fruit trees
  • Organize neighborhood green infrastructure projects
  • Join a co-op to install rainwater harvesting features in other people's yards and at schools
  • Start a co-op at their church
If we all did rainwater harvesting, there would be enough water for everyone in Tucson without relying on CAP water. Green infrastructure directs street water to drought tolerant trees that shade Tucson and sequesters carbon.

Artists for Sustainability

Artists of every medium including: filmmakers, writers, poets, theater directors, actors, storytellers, musicians, performance artists, etc. use their talents to share their vision and spread the word about sustainable solutions.
  • Collaborate with classroom teachers to teach and inspire students
  • Promote sustainable ideas with songs, movies, murals, coloring books, quilts and websites
  • Share stories (personal or fables) that teach about sustainability and climate solutions
  • Make neighborhoods and streets more livable with colorful contributions
  • Create sculptures that add whimsy to gardens, edible forests in traffic medians and bike paths
  • Decorate pocket parks with bright mosaics and mini libraries that invite neighbors to gather
  • Help transform our town into a hub of ecotourism
Outdoor Exercise Enthusiasts

Biking and walking contribute to a healthy lifestyle enjoying our lovely desert - with the knowledge that we aren't contributing to pollution or worsening climate change by driving everyday. Tucson has a world renown bike path.  The Loop now totals 131 miles and connects the Rillito River Park, Santa Cruz River Park, and Pantano River Park with Julian Wash and the Harrison Greenway. The Loop connects parks, trailheads, bus and bike routes, workplaces, restaurants, schools, hotels and motels, shopping areas, and entertainment venues.

Nature and Wildlife Lovers 

With more and more of our wildlife going extinct everyday because of lack of habitat (and climate change threatening to aggravate the situation), many nature and wildlife lovers are transforming their yards into edible forests and habitats for birds and pollinators by planting native plants in mulch covered catchment basins.

River Restoration restores biodiversity by creating lush habitats for wildlife along the river's tree-lined banks. Join a team at Watershed Management Group, the Sonoran Institute, or the Sierra Club.

Pull unwanted "weeds" by hand or eat them to keep from spraying Roundup that kills bees (and has been proven to cause cancer.).We need bees to pollinate our gardens and fruit trees!

I'm gonna throw picking buffel grass in here too. Buffel grass is an invasive species that spreads like wildfire and burns so hot it can wipe out our iconic saguaros. Note: when picking be careful not to spread the seeds. Remove the seeds first and place them in a sealed bag. It's best to pick them before they go to seed. Just after it rains is easiest. 

There are lots of organizations you can get involved in that are working to save nature and wildlife - including the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. Some organizations working on habitat restoration are Watershed Management Group, Borderlands Restoration Network, and Sustainable Tucson's own Habitat Restoration Committee. The Habitat Restoration Committee’s objective is to promote the use of regenerative landscape management and organic land care to restore Tucson’s natural habitat so native desert plants and wildlife flourish. They are currently in the process of growing a pollination garden. 

Energy Efficient Homeowners 

Energy Efficient Homeowners are mindful of their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of energy they use in their home.

Examples of what Energy Efficient Homeowners do:
  • Turn the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer
  • Turn off the lights and unplug appliances when not in use
  • Switch to LED light bulbs 
  • Replace old appliances with energy-efficient versions (see Solar Energy Adopter too)
  • Make sure appliances are in good repair and filters are clean
  • Install double-paned windows and increase attic installation
  • Plant trees on the north, east and west side of the house to shade it
  • Make sun tea or cook in a solar oven instead of using fossil fuel energy to cook

Solar Energy Adopters 

There's one resource we have plenty of in Arizona - Sunshine.

When it's time to replace old appliances, air conditioners and vehicles, Solar Energy Adopters buy energy efficient, electric versions to be powered with rooftop solar.  Some install an electric car charger in their garage or carport.

Wanna work on this issue?  Join Sustainbable Tucson's Energy Transformation Working Group or Community Choice Energy for Tucson and Pima County

Community Choice Energy (CCE) (also called Community Choice Aggregation) is a powerful tool that enables communities to choose their own sources of energy and to rapidly transition to renewables. The group is calling on the City of Tucson and Pima County to incorporate CCE as a key component of their climate action and sustainability plans, and to advocate for CCE at the state level. Please consider showing your support by signing the petition here:

Community Choice Energy for Tucson and Pima County Petition:

Email with questions

Electric Car Aficionados

Our personal vehicles are a major cause of global warming. Collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all US emissions, emitting around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for every gallon of gas. About five pounds comes from the extraction, production, and delivery of the fuel, while the great bulk of heat-trapping emissions—more than 19 pounds per gallon—comes right out of a car’s tailpipe.

Electric Car Aficionados can charge their car using solar power.

Environmental Advocates

If we all contribute our best efforts, we can have a huge impact on mitigating climate change, decreasing unhealthy pollution, and protecting resources. But some of us need a little more nudging to take positive action. So that's why we have the Environmental Advocates.

Environmental Advocates contact politicians and those in power to encourage them to support laws that protect our planet and curb climate change. That can mean making a phone call, writing your local, state and federal politicians, or meeting with them in person.  Environmental Advocates also provide public input at  city council and board of supervisors meetings. They weigh in on bills in committee at our state legislature by using Request to Speak. You can find calls to action on Desktop Activist Tucson website or Facebook page as well as Sustainable Tucson's Facebook page

They can advocate for actions that:
At this point, we all need to do everything we can to mitigate climate change in order for Tucson to thrive in the future. There is something on this list that anyone can do. Climate Scientist Katherine Hayoe says, "The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it"

How do you talk to someone who doesn't believe in climate change? Not by rehashing the same data and facts we've been discussing for years, says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. The key to having a real discussion is to connect over shared values like family, community and religion -- and to prompt people to realize that they already care about a changing climate. "We can't give in to despair," she says. "We have to go out and look for the hope we need to inspire us to act -- and that hope begins with a conversation, today."

One of the best ways to inspire others to take climate action is by setting a good example. While tending my edible food forest, I share what I am doing with neighbors and explain why. Simple actions like bringing reusable bags to the store can be an example to other shoppers. I am seeing more and more people carrying water bottles on the bus.

With the limited time we have left, we really need to tackle climate change in every possible arena - in our homes, neighborhoods, towns, work places, organizations, as well as every level of government.  By incorporating these climate actions into our daily lives, we can build a fun, rewarding lifestyle and create the paradign shift needed for our community to thrive into the future. 

Need moral support? Join a Sustainability Community

Sustainable Tucson meets the second Tuesday of every month and has an active facebook community.

More information: 

We are all in this together. Please, share.