Climate Literacy

October 8, 2016
By: Betsy Wilkening, COP26 Delegate

Battling Environmental Generational Amnesia

My great aunt enjoying water in Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ in 1927
My great aunt enjoying water in Sabino Canyon in Tucson, AZ in 1927

I teach about climate change because I’m worried that Arizona will not be a desirable place to live for the 7th generation of my family. My ancestors lived in the Tucson area when it became part of the United States through the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico in 1854. I’ve spent the majority of my life in Tucson and will always consider the Sonoran Desert my home. As my two children embark on careers and graduate school, I realize that Tucson might not be a desirable environment for their future families. I know that it’s not too late to make our community more resilient to climate change for future generations if we act now.

My siblings and I grew up proud of our Mexican heritage with a respect for the wonderful desert we lived in. As most kids of our generation, we spent a lot of time outside. Catching lizards to keep in our backyard as a pest control measure was a favorite pastime. Water was always valued and heat never seemed to be an issue. We spent many summers at a community swimming pool, and were excited when our neighbors built their own pool. My younger brother and I were often seen darting barefoot across the searing asphalt, stopping occasionally to step on our towels to cool our feet, on our way to the pool.

My daughter enjoying a summer hike in Sabino Canyon before a summer monsoon storm in 2016
My daughter enjoying a summer hike in Sabino Canyon before a summer monsoon storm in 2016

After the hot dry days of June, Tucson receives a monsoonal flow of moisture from Mexico through July, August and into September. This provides some spectacular lightning shows, lots of wind, and sporadic downpours in various parts of town. It can often pour rain two blocks away from your house, while leaving your yard bone dry. Some of my favorite memories are based around monsoon storms. My dad used to drive us to the Tanque Verde Wash area to catch toads that would awaken from their hibernation after a summer storm. While taking care of my Mom in her final days before succumbing to cancer, she mustered enough energy to sit on the front porch with me and enjoy the rain, lightning, and cool breeze of an August afternoon storm.

Peter Kahn, a professor at the University of Washington, speaks of Environmental Generational Amnesia. This term refers to people accepting the degradation of our environment across generations because it is thought of as the new normal. There is value in being able to adapt to the new normal, but what are we giving up?

I work with Arizona Project WET at the University of Arizona, and our program grows STEM Literacy and water stewardship through teacher professional development, direct student instruction, and community engagement in K-12 education.

My goals as a climate education ambassador are to battle Environmental Generational Amnesia by:

  1. Connecting people to their sources of water and its impact on the Sonoran Desert
  2. Growing a community understanding of the interconnection of our local ecosystem to the global system
  3. Taking local actions to build community resilience against threats of increased heat, extended drought, and extreme storms

Through this work I believe we can ensure that Tucson is a community that will support future generations with a high quality of life.