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A Note from our Chapter Chair
How the Other Half Lives

Susan Eastwood

February 2023

I recently visited the Western city of Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet elevation just 70 miles from the Grand Canyon National Park. A trendy college town with a strong outdoorsy vibe, in fact, you can’t help but want to get outside under the wide blue skies, snow-capped San Francisco Range and tall pines. And after dark, you’ve never seen so many stars!


But all is not well in the West. Climate change has brought a 22 year drought to the entire western U.S., having now reached the status of a “megadrought”, the worst in 1,200 years. Scientists warn that this is not a temporary drought, but a lasting “aridification” of the West. You may have seen photos of the record low water levels in Lake Powell, or Lake Mead (both just over one quarter full), two of the main water reservoirs for major western cities such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, with a combined population of forty million people. With a much reduced snowpack, overuse, and extreme drought, California and the four corner states now have between 25-50 percent of their once normal annual water supply to bring to the lakes, ranches, and urban areas that depend on it.

Photo: The white “bathtub ring” looms high above Powell Reservoir in Glen Canyon after several years of drought. Spring 2022. Colorado River basin and reservoir system.

Photo credit: Alicyn Gitlin


Just Northeast of Flagstaff are the Navajo Nation and Hopi homelands. If you saw the film Powerlands, you have a sense of the issues the Navajo are facing with mining and exploitation of oil and gas on their lands. Here, contaminated water sources or no infrastructure, cause 40% of Navajo homes to have no running water. Many must drive for miles to fill tanks with water for their daily use.


Here on the East Coast, we may not see these climate impacts and inequities directly, just as folks in Flagstaff may not think much about the rising sea levels and floods that threaten our Connecticut shoreline and North Hartford basements. Having too much water can be just as bad as not having enough! 


It’s hard to understand what we don’t know.


But there is something we can do to help bridge that gap in understanding and protect our planet’s future. Stories, reading, and media can bring other worlds alive and promote an empathy with how the other half lives. Even better, get outside and see for yourselves the beauty and climate impacts in other parts of the country if you are able to do so. Connecting with nature has additional benefits for our mental health and general quality of life.


Introduce your children and grandchildren to nature and you will be giving them the gift of a lifetime – appreciation of the beauty of our natural world, and the desire to continue the fight to save it! Connecticut’s beautiful shoreline and lush forest trails give us a wonderful opportunity to do just that!


If the cold weather and rising energy prices are motivating you to look for ways to save energy AND money, you may want to sign up for an ongoing series to help homeowners take advantage of new technology, and the rebates and tax credits available to help make these upgrades affordable. On February 7, join us online or in person for How the Inflation Reduction Act Can Help You Save Money on Energy Costs. Other presentations in the series cover heat pumps, solar, and batteries. Find them on our events page.


And check out our YouTube channel for webinars and presentations you may have missed. 


Onward into 2023!



Susan Eastwood is Chapter Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut.

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