I’m currently sitting in a hotel lobby in Tucson, Arizona. I spent a good portion of last night discussing issues of water scarcity and the tactics of the divestment movement with some of the most active young environmentalists around the country. Sometime this weekend I’m planning on meeting with professionals in campus sustainability. It all feels a bit surreal… looking out the window after a run through the suburban development surrounding the hotel, peering out over golf-courses, and trying to see through the cacti on the other side of the highway adjacent to the hotel. After I finish writing this piece I’m going to bargain for water usage on behalf of a Californian Tribe facing drought. It’s a role-play simulation, but it’s a blend of reality that could only be achieved in this state of desert living with academic pretenses.
Let me try to explain…
In April of last year I was awarded the Udall Foundation’s undergraduate scholarship for environmental action. Established in memorial of Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall, two public servants that served for years on the behalf of Arizona, the scholarship aims to commemorate their work on Tribal Rights and Conservation by bringing some of the most committed students in the two fields together for a week. The surreal feelings that are washing over me now are a result of that particular part of the scholarship experience.
There are so many incredible young people here this weekend. I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of work that my fellow scholars have been able to accomplish. My roommate for the weekend helped organize a people’s resistance to fossil fuel development in the Amazon rainforest. He’s frequently mentioning the jungle. There’s another scholar here that put solar panels on her university buildings, established a community garden, and is planning on “the next thing” as I write. It seems that every conversation I have is doused in a serious shot of work ethic. It’s impressive. I am unbelievably thankful to have been considered a member of this community. These people are incredible.
Although I’m aware that this scholarship is an excellent experience for professional development, I’m trying my hardest not to write about it that way now. The way I’ve seen it, or at least the way that it’s felt, the connections that I’m establishing here over the weekend in the Sonoran Desert are oriented around building a better future; as scholars we’re collectively committed to addressing major issues in our lives and we need a support network of people our own age to make those meaningful changes happen. There is a future here that is being written in the sands of the suburban desert. I’m excited to see where these relationships will take us.
Tomorrow I have planned to go for a sunrise hike with several other scholars. I want to watch the desert come to life just beyond the highways and circular developments. On Sunday night I’ll be back in New York and I’ll be finishing up my Economist courses for the summer. The city seems so far away, but yet so close. How do we preserve?