A Critical Look at Waste Incineration

Tuesday, August 9, 6:00 pm

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Waste incineration (including pyrolysis, gasification, and plasma arc) is making a comeback across the country, driven by misguided waste management and energy policies. Here in Tucson the Environmental and General Services Department is evaluating the feasibility of hosting a waste incinerator at the Los Reales Sustainability Campus.

Incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or manage waste. It is more polluting than coal (even for the climate) and undermines zero waste approaches like source reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting.

Join us at our August monthly meeting to learn about the life-cycle impacts of incineration technologies and how they affect people and our environment.

Our speaker will be Mike Ewall, founder and director of Energy Justice Network. EJN is a national support network for grassroots community groups fighting dirty energy and waste industry facilities, such as coal power plants, ethanol plants, natural gas facilities, landfills, and incinerators of every sort.

Mike has been actively involved in student and community environmental justice organizing since high school in 1990. He’s taught hundreds of workshops at college campuses and activist conferences throughout the U.S. His grassroots support work has helped many communities achieve victories against power plants, landfills, incinerators, medical waste facilities and other polluting industries.


Update on PFAS pollution in Tucson

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The July Sustainable Tucson meeting is taking a different approach than our usual meetings. We are invited to join an information session that Councilmember Steve Kozachik is holding on PFAS pollution, a topical issue of great import to us all. The announcement that follows is from Councilmember Kozachik. Please join us on Zoom on Thursday, July 14, at 6:00 pm.
Since the 1970’s the industry has known PFAS is toxic. It’s a family of chemicals that’s used to create non-stick surfaces, water proofing on clothing, and most importantly it is used as a fire-fighting foam the military used for decades at virtually every military base in the country. It’s called Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), and Davis Monthan and the training done by the Air National Guard at Tucson International used it. We know their chosen method of disposal was to hose it into the soil when training took place on runways, and to dilute it and dump it down the sewer system when the training took place in hangars. 
The city regularly tests our groundwater wells for a variety of pollutants. In the case of PFAS the EPA had until last week established health advisory limits for PFAS at 70 parts per trillion. We detected contamination levels outside of DM in excess of 1,000ppt, and outside of TIA at over 10,000ppt. Tucson water has a policy by which we shut down wells when we see levels of 18ppt. So far there are over 25 Tucson Water wells shut down as a result.
I’ve been hosting informational meetings for the public to hear from DOD, the ADEQ, Tucson Water, and the city attorney’s office on updates related to the PFAS contamination we’re experiencing in Tucson. Last week the EPA lowered their health advisory level to .0004ppt for PFAS. Their own credentialed testing method will only detect down to 2ppt. The health advisory is just that – advisory. It is not a legally binding maximum contamination limit. The result is confusion within the military, environmental quality agencies, and utilities.
Join us on July 14 at 6pm by Zoom for the next presentation from representatives of DM, ADEQ, and city representatives. We’ll discuss the levels of contamination we know of in the Tucson region, and we’ll hear how the various players in this are responding to the new EPA standards.


Persuading shoppers to reduce plastic bag use: Can it be done?

Tuesday, June 14, 6:00 pm

Single-use plastic bags pose significant threats to the environment, wildlife, and human health. Despite regulatory efforts by many countries, plastic pollution remains a massive issue, with single-use plastic bags contributing significantly to that impact.

Can we reduce plastic bag pollution through effective communication strategies? Join us at our July monthly meeting to explore this question.

Our speakers will be Rain Wuyu Liu, UA Assistant Professor of Communication, and Taylor Foerster, PhD student in the Communication Department. They will report on research that they conducted on different approaches to affect consumer behavior.

Seeking a persuasive communication intervention, they tested the effectiveness of “normative messages” in reducing the usage of plastic bags:

1) “Social norm” messages indicated prevalence of the desired behavior and its perceived social approval;
2) “Personal norm” messages referred to a person’s moral obligation to engage in the behavior;
3) “Integrated” messages referred to both social and personal norms.

The team’s findings were very interesting, and could be helpful to advocates who wish to reduce pollution and litter in the community.

About our speakers:

Rain Wuyu Liu is an Assistant Professor of Communication. She was born and raised in China. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Southwest University in her home country, she came to the United States in 2010, where she received her M.A. in Public Relations from the University of Miami in 2012, and Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University in 2017.

Rain’s research interests span the areas of persuasion, interpersonal communication, intercultural communication, and social influence

Specifically, her research focuses on the impacts of social norm messages on health and environment information processing, attitude change, and health and conservation behavior promotion. She is also interested in the interplay between cultural values and beliefs with the social normative influence in shaping individuals’ attitudes and behaviors.
Rain’s work on grant-funded research projects has included an interdisciplinary behavioral and social science (IBSS) research project conducted among Tibetan herders in Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), along with other funded projects. Her publications have appeared in notable academic journals, and she has won multiple awards for outstanding papers and research excellence. Currently she teaches courses in public relations, intercultural communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion, research methods, and communication campaign design and analysis.

Taylor Foerster is a PhD student in the communication department at the University of Arizona. Previously, she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in natural resources with an emphasis in wildlife management + conservation and a Master of Science degree in Agricultural Education. Her research is multidisciplinary in nature and interests include environmental and science communication with particular interest in human dimensions of wildlife conservation and management topics.


Strawbale Construction:

Then, Now and Whenever

Tuesday, May 10, 6:00 pm, on Zoom.

We’re all looking for more sustainable ways to live, and that can include the materials we use to build our homes. Join us for a look at one of those possible materials at our May monthly meeting: “Strawbale Construction: Then, Now, Whenever.”
Tucson’s own strawbale pioneers Matts Myhrman and David Eisenberg will be joined by Tucson strawbale consultant Joe Silins in an in-depth presentation about strawbale construction. Matts will talk about the revival of strawbale use; David will cover its continuing evolution, along with some information about building codes and good resources; and Joe will share some of his recent work.
It’s sure to be a fun evening!


Acting as if the house is on fire? Climate Change as a Pre-traumatic Stressor

Tuesday, April 12  •  6:pm

Climate change anxiety is a growing health concern among the broader, and in particular the younger, population. With regard to climate change, many have pinpointed denial as one of the prominent responses people exhibit when being exposed to the possibility of the death of the human species, themselves, or their offspring, which severely inhibits development of resilience or adaptation.
Why do people react to the threat of climate change differently? Why does it seem like many don’t really react at all, whereas others are scared and can’t think of anything else? Generally, climate change has been linked to mental health directly as climate-related hazards such as extreme heat, extreme weather events, and morbidity associated with vector-borne disease all may serve to increase mood and behavioral disorders amongst people with pre-existing conditions. Climate change can also be linked to mental health effects indirectly in that the perceived threat to well-being and survival is a source of distress, anxiety, and fear; however, this awareness may also trigger climate change mitigation and adaptation behaviors that support community, build psychosocial resilience, and encourage behavior change toward increased sustainability.
For our April monthly meeting, our speaker, Sabrina Helm, Associate Professor at UA’s School of Family and Consumer Sciences, will share her research into psychological effects of climate change, with insights into adaptive and maladaptive responses ranging from climate hope and activism to climate grief and denial.
In her research, she analyzes the psychological consequences of climate change as a pre-traumatic stressor; that means independent of people’s immediate exposure to environmental change or disaster. Just thinking about climate change or seeing news reports on climate change can affect some of us. Evolutionary biology may help explain some of our psychological reaction patterns. In the presentation, Prof. Helm explores how prominent climate anxiety is among people today, what it means, how typical human reactions to climate change may be explained, what other psychological responses to climate change exist, and how mental health specialists and we as individuals can cope with climate change anxiety.

For further background on these issues, you may want to watch a recent feature on “Arizona Illustrated” that aired on November 23, 2021, titled “Solastalgia – Grief and anxiety caused by the disconnection to the natural world.” It features Prof. Helm and some of her work.


Growing Native Desert Trees for Shade

March 8, 2022 6:00 pm
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The coolness of shade comforts us on a hot summer day. What if we could increase the shade tree canopy around our homes without substantially increasing our water bills? Tucson averages less than 6 percent tree canopy coverage, with some neighborhoods having 4 percent or less. Increasing the urban tree canopy has multiple benefits but requires more water at a time when potable water systems are stressed.

To increase tree canopy to 15 percent without substantially increasing potable water demand, we can plant more native Sonoran Desert trees and increase water harvesting.

Native trees are well-adapted to our heat and seasonal droughts.  Planting these trees in appropriate locations and supporting them with harvested water can provide our homes and neighborhoods with shady, climate-resilient trees, while saving precious (and costly) drinking water.
Join Sustainable Tucson for our March virtual monthly meeting for an exploration of “Growing Native Desert Trees for Shade.” Our speaker, Ann Audrey, will provide tips on the best native trees to plant, where and how to make optimum use of the rain we receive to help Tucson grow into a greener and cooler community, plus other tips on tree planting and care.
Speaker. Ann Audrey, MS Hydrology and Water Resources, is an environmental consultant working in urban tree management, rainwater harvesting, and sustainable design. Having completed a grant compiling recommended Native Trees, she is currently assisting in the drafting of an Urban Forest Action Plan for the City of Tucson.


Agrivoltaics: A Winning Combo of Food and Energy

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Exciting research has been going on for several years at Biosphere 2 and two schools in Tucson. UA Professor Greg Barron-Gafford has been leading teams studying what happens when vegetables are planted beneath raised solar panels. So far, the results show that this is a winning combination, productive for both the plants and the panels.

Join us on Tuesday, February 8, at 6:00 pm for our virtual Monthly Meeting. Prof. Barron-Gafford will give us an overview of Agrivoltaics: how it works and why it’s a particularly suitable approach for Southern Arizona, and he’ll update us on what developments we can expect to see resulting from the local projects.

Greg Barron-Gafford is a professor in the School of Geography, Development, and Environment, and is Associate Director of the Community and School Garden Program. He has been developing the field of agrivoltaics for the last 8 years, currently working not just in Southern Arizona but with researchers in Colorado and Oregon as well as in Africa and the Middle East


Electrification: Key for Climate Change Mitigation

Tuesday, December 14, 6:00 pm
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We have ten, maybe fifteen years to decarbonize our activities, our city, and the world, repairing our damage to habitable places, and slowing the accelerating cascade of extinctions. We can achieve these goals if each major decision from now on eliminates fossil fuels from our daily habits. That means that household appliances, heating, water heating, cooking, and our long-term transportation purchases from here on out need to be powered by electricity, not gas, and that before mid-century we’re supplying them almost exclusively with cleanly produced electrical power. This will triple our electricity use, but the elimination of fossil fuels and their inherent inefficiencies means overall energy consumption will decline.
Join us at 6:00 on Tuesday, Dec. 14, for an overview of hands-on electrification in which everyone has a role. The presentation goes hand-in-hand with Sustainable Tucson’s new web-based Energy Transformation Toolkit, which includes practical guidance for electrification applicable to Tucson homes, businesses, and nonprofits, including financial incentives available. If you have a few minutes, give it a glance before the meeting.
Following the presentation and discussion of this timely topic, you’re invited to join in some celebratory end-of-year sharing on sustainability – of positive happenings over the year, current projects, and hopes for the coming year. Additional details and speakers will be announced in our next newsletter, on our Meetup page, on Facebook, and on our website (


Local Sustainability in the Public Sector

A conversation with civic officials 
Tuesday, November 9, 2021
6:00-7:30 pm
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What can governmental agencies do to help us live in harmony with our desert environment for generations to come? Meet civic staff whose work aims to ensure a sustainable future. 

Our conversation will feature Irene Ogata, Tucson Water’s Urban Landscape Manager; Natalie Shepp, Senior Program Manager for Outreach and Education at the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality; Nicole Gillett, the City’s Urban Forest Manager; and Samantha Neville, District 5 Aide to Supervisor Adelita Grijalva. Through a moderated Q & A, they will describe their roles, their goals, their successes, and the needs they see for their work going forward.


Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainability

Tuesday, October 12, 6:00 pm
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Indigenous peoples have become frontline leaders in the push for climate justice and the building of regenerative futures. Simultaneously, more and more folks outside of the Indigenous community have been learning that Indigenous traditional governance, frameworks, values, and ecological practices have the capacity to offer insight to building these futures for us all.
At our next monthly meeting, PennElys Droz will explore the movement of Indigenous peoples to re-emerge our values and governance in regenerative nation-building, our work to achieve Land Back, and why this is relevant and impactful for our local, national, and global community. Please join us for this timely presentation, with ample time for questions and discussion.

Dr. PennElys Droz is an Anishinaabekwe mother of five, a Program Officer for the NDN Collective, and an active founding Board member of Sustainable Nations. She has worked for over 20 years in service of the re-development of ecologically, culturally, and economically thriving and resilient Indigenous Nations.