Arizona

copyright (c) 1984 Edward Abbey
Oracle, Arizona

Governor Bruce Babbitt tells us that by the year 2000, only sixteen years from now, Arizona will gain two million new residents, that Phoenix will become another Houston and Tucson another Phoenix, and that we will have an additional one million automobiles crowding our streets and highways. Tucson Mayor Lew Murphy --- unable to conceal his smirking glee --- predicts that Tucson will become, within twenty years, a 450-square-mile urbanized area. Most of our reigning bankers, economists, and developers keep shelling us with a similar barrage of thundering numbers. This, our leaders tell us, is good news. Growth is good, they say, reciting like an incantation the prime article of faith of the official American religion: Bigger is better and best is biggest. Growth, they tell us, means more jobs, more bank accounts, more cars, more people, leading in turn to the demand for more jobs, more economic expansion, more industrial development. Where, when, and how is this spiraling process supposed to reach a rational end --- a state of stability, sanity, and equilibrium?

When and if Arizona becomes like Southern California or South Central Texas or the Baltimore-to-Boston megalopolis, will people like Murphy and Babbitt and the corporation executives from whom they take their instructions then be satisfied? Or will our children be faced, once again, with new and greater demands for still more growth?

Already looking beyond the completion of the Central Arizona Project, Babbitt speaks of mining the ground water of Western Arizona. For what purpose? Why, to provide the essential liquid element for further growth. And when that supply is played out, as it is already playing out in Southern Arizona and the high plains of Texas, then what? The answer is easy to foresee: A great clamor from our Southwestern politicians to desalinate the Sea of Cortez, to import icebergs from Antarctica, to divert first the Columbia and then the Yukon rivers into the drainages of the Colorado.

Viewing it in this way, we can see that the religion of endless growth-like any religion based on blind faith rather than reason-is a kind of mania, a form of lunacy, indeed a disease. And the one disease to which the growth mania bears an exact analogical resemblance is cancer. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Cancer has no purpose but growth; but it does have another result-the death of the host.

But all this is mere futurology, like astrology and computerology and technology, only one of the many commercialized superstitions of our time. We need not look years ahead but simply look at the present to weigh the comparative advantages and disadvantages of industrial growth. We need only consider Phoenix and Tucson and decide which of the two is the more attractive, which is the better place to live in, make a living in, raise a family in.

It should be clear to everyone by now that crude numerical growth does not solve our chronic problems of unemployment, welfare, crime, traffic, filth, noise, squalor, the pollution of our air, the poisoning of our water, the corruption of our politics, the debasement of the school system (hardly worthy of the name "education"), and the general loss of popular control over the political process --- where money, not people, is now the determining factor.

Far from solving such problems, industrial expansion and population growth only make them worse. Does Houston really provide us with a model to aspire toward? Or Chicago? New York? Los Angeles? Miami? Or maybe Mexico City?

Ah well, say our alleged leaders, in response to this sort of argument, we face a challenge. Our politicians love that word. And the challenge, they tell us, is to accommodate ourselves to endless growth without sacrificing the quality of the Arizona environment, without losing the bright skies, the bracing air, the open space, the abundant wildlife, the desert plant life, the sheer delight of physical freedom, all of those good and unique and irreplaceable things that are in sum what attracted most of us to Arizona in the first place.

We can have it both ways, they say. We can enjoy our cake and at the same time destroy it, grind it to bits in the urbanizing, industrializing mill, and transform what we prize into boom time if temporary, jobs for thousands and fat bank accounts for the tiny but powerful minority of land speculators, tract-slum builders, bankers, car dealers, and shopping-mall hustlers who stand to profit from what they call growth.

This argument hardly requires an answer. The so-called challenge is a plain lie. All industrial development involves a tradeoff: in order to make room for more growth, we must give up the very qualities that make a high standard of civilized human life still possible in Arizona --- as contrasted to, say, the frantic, crowded, substandard life of California's Silicon Valley. (Do you really want to live in a place where the microchip is the highest object of human desire?)

And now we come to the final argument of growth zealots. Growth, they say, is inevitable. There is nothing, they say, that we can do about it. There is no constitutional means by which we can prevent two million more flatlanders from invading Arizona in the next sixteen years.

This is the baldest lie of them all. Nothing is inevitable but death, taxes, and the insolent dishonesty (as Mark Twain said) of elected officials.

The fact is that the fungoid growth of Arizona in recent years has been the result of deliberate policy. The only purpose of the CAP is to make possible the continued growth of Central and Southern Arizona. The same is true of the Palo Verde nuclear power plant and the various new coal-burning plants now polluting the public air.

The only purpose of the state's pro-business, anti-labor position is to lure industry here --- and if this policy causes misery and hardship elsewhere, that is of no concern to our leaders. The only purpose of freeway projects, highway building, riverdamming, pro-development rezoning, and opposition to wilderness preservation, naming but a few measures, is to make possible, encourage, and create the runaway growth that enriches a few and gradually impoverishes the rest of us.

If we in Arizona did our part in keeping American industry where it now is, we would also help keep Arizona what it is. People follow industry, high-technology or otherwise, not because they enjoy being uprooted from their homes but out of painful economic need.

Does my attitude seem selfish? Of course it is. I have lived in the Southwest since 1947 --- forty years --- most of my life. During most of those years, I survived on part-time work and the precarious existence of a free-lance writer, usually on an income below the official US government poverty line. I did it because I love Arizona and the Southwest, preferably as it was but even as it is. And because I love it, I do not want to see our state become one more high-tech slum like California or a wasteland of space-age sleaze like Texas. I have a sneaking suspicion there's about a million other Arizonans who feel the same way I do.

We cannot creep from quantity to quality. It's high time we told the little cabal who run this state that Tucson is big enough, Phoenix is big enough, Arizona is big enough. What we need is not more growth but more democracy --- and democracy, some other old-timers may recall, means government by the people. By the people.