Monday, November 13, 2017

Environmental consciousness in Albuquerque

I’m not sure how most people become environmentally conscious but my evolution as an environmental enthusiast was forged from several factors. My introduction to environmental consciousness started shortly after moving to Albuquerque, NM in the mid-90’s.

Living in the High Desert with scarce rainfall tends to focus one’s attention on environmental issues very quickly. No appreciable rainfall occurred from December until June of the following year. 6 months of NO rain. Having lived most of my life on the East Coast, I had experienced many grey, wet days. 

Some years it seemed like wet, inclement weather occurred for weeks on end. New Mexico was a shock to the system. Florida may be called the Sunshine state but I doubt they experience as many days (approximately 300) of sunshine in the desert Southwest. Many a weekend on the East Coast is ruined when rainy weather appears. 

Just the opposite occurs in sunny New Mexico. I still remember how giddy everyone got after that first rainfall that signalled the start of monsoon season. Yes, there is a monsoon season. It’s nothing like what happens in parts of Asia but you have to live there and experience it to understand why it is an appropriate term.
Albuquerque averages just under 10” of rain annually and about 10” of snow annually.

The dearth of rainfall obviously comes with a host of issues. The number one issue involves the replenishment of local aquifers which supply drinking water for local inhabitants. I won’t get into the tortuous history of water skirmishes but let’s just say, it’s an issue that every New Mexican (whether you have long-standing roots to the area or are a newcomer) is constantly aware of both consciously and unconsciously. 

While Mother Nature is stingy with rainfall in New Mexico, she is very generous with solar and wind capacity. People there, starting with Indigenous folks, have always used passive solar to heat their homes and wind to pump water for both human and animal consumption. The landscape is dotted with many different applications of solar and wind power. 

One of the myths I was led to believe about living in the Southwest was that the dry air provided relief from allergies and respiratory illnesses. 

Starting in the late 19th century, tuberculosis patients were often sent to NM and AZ for “cures” to relieve them of their illness or symptoms. 

I suppose the dry, hot air once was thought to be a cure-all but as immigrants are prone to do in new lands, they brought non-native plants and trees which grow abundantly today. I had a five-month honeymoon from allergy symptoms until the growing season kicked in fully. Not only did my allergies resume but they came back with a vengeance. Eventually, my allergies got so bad that I developed asthma (allergy of the lungs) and a sensitivity to a number of environmental allergens (both natural and man-made). I could no longer use strong chemical cleaners with noxious odors. I developed rashes and hives to personal care products with lots of chemicals and perfumes. 

At one point, a doctor I visited informed me that my reactions were indications of an auto-immune disorder. I refused to accept the diagnosis and started experimenting with natural and organic personal care products. After some fits and starts, I found natural or organic personal care and household cleaning products that were non-irritating but also efficacious.

After my own personal odyssey into “green” products and the birth of my daughter in 2002, I became committed to living more environmentally conscious. In 2004, we began the process of building a custom home.

I studied water capture; use of gray water for natural irrigation; using sustainable products and non-VOC paints, thinners, flooring, etc. I even studied for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. 

Eventually, in 2009, my sister and I started an environmentally conscious lifestyle company that focused on selling sustainable and recyclable products for the home. Due to the proliferation of green products being sold in more traditional stores, we shuttered the business and online store in late 2014. While my dream to expand our all eco products company to brick and mortar locations never came to fruition, I am still committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. 

Environmental issues (i.e. DAPL, Flint, MI water crisis, etc.) that affect disaffected and marginalized groups, in particular, are dearest to my heart. I will be writing on a myriad of environmental topics that I hope will offer a different perspective and creative solutions for change in an increasingly difficult political environment.

By Bunnee Shelton for Green City Times. I'm an environmental enthusiast; Social Justice Advocate for the vulnerable – who are often People of Color, specifically Women of Color. @BunneeShelton (Twitter)

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