Sustainability is about much more than conserving natural resources. True sustainability also takes into account economic, social and human resources, because an activity or practice isn’t sustainable if it costs more than we can afford or harms people.
That’s the message I took away from two exhibitions that open this Saturday, February 5, at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. I was lucky enough to get a preview of the Sustainable Choices and The Migrant Project exhibitions earlier this week while Turtle Bay staff members and City of Redding employees finished preparations.
City of Redding? Yes, the city’s electric utility, as well as its water, wastewater, storm drain and solid waste divisions, have put together displays that complement a traveling sustainability exhibition that Turtle Bay has brought to town. From my perspective, the local component, which also includes presentations from Healthy Shasta, is stronger than the traveling exhibition.
The pieces from NRG Exhibits, of Kirkland, Wash., provide a big-picture look at issues such as electricity, water, purchasing practices, and food production and packaging. The immediately adjacent local section put together by the city and Healthy Shasta tries to bring the points home and provide useful examples of how people can make a difference. It’s one thing to learn about wasted natural resources. It’s another to learn exactly which items may be recycled and where, and how to buy things that minimize the need to recycle at all.
“Some people are going to say this is Turtle Bay telling us how to live again,” conceded Julia Cronin, Turtle Bay’s curator of exhibitions and collections. But the intent is to educate, not preach. “It doesn’t have to be a painful lifestyle change,” she said.
“It’s all about exposure,” said Turtle Bay spokesman Toby Osborn. “If you don’t put on an exhibition like this, people don’t learn. At least this will spark somebody to think about things.”
Two pieces of the local exhibition sparked my thinking. One is very simple yet very elegant: a small pyramid of five 55-gallon drums next to a wall of nineteen 55-gallon drums. The small stack demonstrates how much water the typical Redding household uses on a winter day. The wall of drums portrays how much water the typical household uses on a summer day, when the vast majority of water irrigates landscaping and tops off swimming pools.
Of course, it rains 30 to 40 inches a year in Redding, and the biggest river in California flows right by Turtle Bay. So who cares how much water we use?
That’s where economic sustainability comes in. The more the tap flows, the more wells the city has to drill and maintain, the more wastewater treatment is needed, and the more stress that is placed on water and wastewater lines, explained Pam Clackler, a water conservation specialist with the city. Wells, utility lines and treatment plants cost real money.
“We decided to design our portion of the exhibit to focus on the nexus between the choices people make on an everyday basis, and the impact of those choices on our resources and our infrastructure,” Clackler explained. “It’s going to come out of our pocketbook.”
Furthering Clackler’s point is the second feature that got me thinking: A giant map of the city’s water, sewer and storm drain lines, as well as the associated wells, pumps and treatment facilities. The enormous amount of economic resources needed to plan, build and maintain such a system is plain.
The Redding Electric Utility display emphasizes steps the utility has taken to get ahead of most electric providers. Redding gets about 34 percent of its electricity from renewable resources (62 percent if you count large-scale hydroelectric facilities, which not everyone considers renewable). Even 34 percent is roughly double what the big corporate utilities such as PG&E have achieved. The display also encourages people to use electricity wisely if for no reason other than to save their own money.
REU has undertaken many educational efforts, but nothing quite on this scale, said Patrick Keener, who heads the utility. In fact, added Clackler, the need to provide museum-quality work to Turtle Bay was intimidating at first. Clackler credited Cronin for collaborating with her and other members of the city’s team (Marcia Ames, Martha Vuist and Christina Piles) on the exhibition.
I did not get to preview Healthy Shasta’s piece of the overall exhibit, which focuses on local food and bicycle commuting. But I did learn that Healthy Shasta will be giving away a few bicycles fully outfitted for commuting as part of its effort at Turtle Bay.
At first glance, Sustainable Choices appears to have little in common with The Migrant Project, a subtle but very powerful collection of photographs documenting the difficult lives of migrant farm workers. However, Cronin purposely paired the two exhibitions because The Migrant Project tells the story of social and economic systems that do not always consider the sustainability of human beings.
“We’re really pleased with how the shows blend together and educate people about all aspects of sustainability,” Cronin said.
Sustainable Choices and The Migrant Project will be on display from February 5 through April 10. Turtle Bay’s Family Second Saturday event scheduled for February 12 will work the sustainability theme into many activities and hands-on lessons for children.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and wonders what ever happened to deposit bottles. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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