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Gerard Ervin: Squandering Arizona's resources
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Gerard Ervin: Squandering Arizona's resources

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Gerard Ervin, Ph.D., is a retired professor of Russian at The Ohio State University. He attended Tucson schools and graduated from the University of Arizona. Contact him at

As one who had the enormous good fortune to grow up in Tucson in the 1950s-60s and has now returned in retirement, I view with dismay what I perceive to be a squandering of some of Arizona’s most important and precious resources. The examples are many, but I’ll focus on just three: our water, our sunshine and our children.

Water: Only 3 percent of the water on Earth is potable. The rest is saline, i.e., sea water. Of that 3 percent, more than two-thirds is locked in polar ice caps. The result is that all of us on the planet are competing for the 1 percent of potable water that is accessible.

Thus, even if Tucson were not located in a desert, it would behoove us to be very careful about how we use what water we have. What do we see instead? Huge housing developments and water-hungry mining operations in areas where once-flowing rivers and creeks have already been reduced to sporadic trickles in fragile desert areas.

We simply cannot be blasé about this issue. For anyone wishing to become more informed on this topic, I recommend the very readable “Layperson’s Guide to Arizona Water,” by the University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center and the Water Education Foundation. It is available online.

Sunshine: When I was a student at Tucson’s Catalina (now Doolen) Junior High School, we learned about the “five Cs” underpinning the Arizona economy: cattle, copper, cotton, citrus and climate.

And now we have a new resource: solar generation of electric power. It keeps our air cleaner by minimizing the burning of fossil fuels. It virtually eliminates the need for water to generate steam for, and to cool, electrical generation plants (including nuclear plants). And as it grows, it will be accompanied by a decreased need for the construction of new power plants and transmission facilities.

It is therefore disconcerting to read about initiatives by several Arizona power companies that — in a state where photoelectric power generation is a virtual no-brainer — actively discourage homeowners from investing in rooftop photoelectric power installations.

Attempts by the utility companies to decrease the payback on the investments of these and other forward-thinking users must not go unchallenged.

Children: A steady stream of news reports reminds us almost weekly that Arizona sits at nearly the bottom of the states with regard to children’s health care, welfare and education.

KidsCare, the Arizona’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), has been unable to approve any new applications since 2010 due to lack of funding. We are the only state in the country without such a program. This leaves children in tens of thousands of low-income families without ready access to health care.

Arizona’s Department of Child Safety continues to be in turmoil, with a backlog of uninvestigated abuse and neglect cases still numbering in the thousands.

And education fares no better: For years Arizona has placed at or near the bottom of the states in per-pupil spending on education. The results? Teacher recruitment and retention are at crisis levels, and student activity programs have become pay-for-play.

The shortcomings in how Arizona looks after its children are disgracefully shortsighted: The physicians, engineers, lawyers, architects, teachers and even politicians who will be a part of our and our children’s lives in the decades to come are in third grade today. Humanitarian considerations aside, it simply makes sense for us to invest in their education and welfare.

The water that we have today is all that we will ever have; we must husband it. The sun that bathes us almost daily is unlimited and free; we must exploit it. And the children in our care today are the future; we must provide for them.

Gerard Ervin, Ph.D., is a retired professor of Russian at The Ohio State University. He attended Tucson schools and graduated from the University of Arizona. Contact him at

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