Built-in environmentalism

Earth Day was an inspiring event. In spite of the reactionaries and libertarians who support despoliation of our environment, millions of people across the nation joined in efforts to protect it.

Unfortunately, the actions of individuals have their limits. The positive efforts of hundreds of thousands of people can be countered by the activities of a single institution, whether manufacturing plant or power utility or government facility—or a powerful lobby. So it is especially heartening that so many institutions, public and commercial, have incorporated environmental concerns into their functions. As we reported last week, even the Reno/Sparks sewer plant has adopted methods of using its operating processes to generate electricity and thus reduce its environmental footprint. “We use about 3.2 megawatts every day,” plant director Starlin Jones said. “We’d like to get completely off the [electric] grid. So any way we can shave off of that—solar, wind—would be good.”

In some cases, institutions persevere in the face of official and community hostility. The Nevada Wildlife Department, for instance, was once basically a hunting and fishing agency controlled by sportsmen. Over the years more and more environmental concerns have been assigned to its mission, a situation that many sportsmen have never accepted. Gov. Jim Gibbons appointed several of these figures to the governing board of the agency to hamper its ability to do its job. Fortunately, the Nevada Legislature, the federal government and the Nevada public have supported the agency’s efforts to continue its work until the voters can remove the governor and his flaky friends can be sent on their way.

It’s not that difficult to see the consequences of the days when institutions did not include the environment in their planning and policies. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, for instance, there was major consideration of relocating the Reno airport to either the former site of the Reno Army Air Base (later Stead Air Force Base), north of Reno, or to Fernley, east of Reno. A feasibility study was done, there was considerable discussion, and then the airport was kept in place where it was.

Once a small facility distant from the center of town, the airport is now 1,500 acres surrounded by the city. Its presence has helped prevent dense development in the center of the valley where residential movement would cause less gasoline usage, instead encouraging sprawl into outlying areas and over the hills into other valleys. Its continuing expansion has meant that now, a large residential population makes the trek into Reno each day by car instead of a smaller population of travelers being ferried to the city by shuttles and buses from outside the valley. Neighborhoods like Home Gardens were torn out. And the airport’s acreage was never freed up for core development. Imagine if sprawl had been more of a consideration 30 years ago.

There are those in the business community and among political ideologues who traffic in junk science and well-funded manipulation of data to try to discredit the need for and urgency of environmental protection. In spite of that retrograde campaign, 40 years after the first Earth Day sound and sustainable practices and policymaking have made their way into individual routines and institutional practices and planning.