This essay introduced a special double issue of High Country News, published January 20, 2014, on urban sustainability that I assembled and edited
Paul set his mug of wine down and glowered at me over his glasses. Los Angeles? Why would any magazine editor include Los Angeles in a special issue on environmental sustainability?
My friend and former professor had good reason to ask. The camper Paul calls home, where I had stopped for dinner that October night, is parked on the upper edge of the sprawling sage-furred desert of California’s Owens Valley. In the early 1900s, L.A. drained the water from Owens Lake, about 80 miles south of here, to feed its own booming growth and glitz. Its thirst left behind toxic dust storms and a bitter grudge among the area’s rural residents.
I encountered similar sentiments when I told others about the stories of urban environmental innovation I was editing for High Country News‘ annual Future issue. Las Vegas? A city like that in a desert is a crime against nature, an environmentalist friend scoffed to me at the local brewery. Phoenix? That, too. Even our student-writing contest got a rise: “While I am very interested in writing an essay that would further our efforts to achieve sustainability in Western Colorado, there is one big problem,” wrote one prospective participant. “A modern industrial society will NEVER be sustainable (here). Virtually all our essential supplies are imported from outside our area.” More…