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A Community in Action: One Small Town Tackling a Global Challenge by Ian Brown

Posted by: | March 30, 2011 Comments Off on A Community in Action: One Small Town Tackling a Global Challenge by Ian Brown |


The Town of Clarkdale, Arizona is taking on global warming single-handedly, a true “David and Goliath” story. International climate regimes trip and stumble. The United States government hesitates and delays meaningful action. The state of Arizona preoccupies itself with lesser concerns of illegal immigration. Meanwhile, the small town of Clarkdale decides to confront global warming head on. No, the town is not spending its time and resources lobbying legislatures to pass any kind of sweeping legal reforms. Instead, Clarkdale has taken upon itself the ambitious goal of metamorphosing into a sustainable community – breathing new life into Gandhi’s old aphorism “be the change that you want to see in the world.”


So What is a Sustainable Community?

As the Brudtland Report states, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Generally speaking, a sustainable community engineers itself to be environmentally, socially, and economically responsible and self-sufficient. Although the specific objectives of sustainability may vary from one community to another, sustainability universally incorporates actions to minimize one’s carbon footprint.

Clarkdale is not alone in its quest for greater sustainability. To date, the mayors of 1049 communities have signed onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (“the agreement”). http://www.usmayors.org/climateprotection/agreement.htm. The agreement binds the signatory communities to work towards attaining the goals outlined in the Kyoto Protocol (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2012). Patricia E. Salkin. Can You Hear Me Up There? Giving Voice to Local Communities Imperative for Achieving Sustainability, 4 Envt’l & Energy L. & Pol’y J. 256, 264 (2009) (“Some of the policies suggested by the U.S. Conference of Mayors include the following: making local GHG inventories, adopting anti-sprawl land use regulations, encouraging alternative modes of transportation, promoting renewable energy production, increasing the use of green building techniques for new construction and retrofits, purchasing fuel efficient vehicles for municipal fleets, increasing the efficiency of water pumping systems, promoting the growth of urban forests, and educating the public about global warming.”). The widespread participation in the agreement signals a trend towards sustainability among U.S. communities. However, as discussed in more detail below, Clarkdale’s efforts are singularly ambitious.

Clarkdale’s Background:

Clarkdale’s history as a small mining town is relatively unassuming and even unremarkable here in the west where mining was the modus operandi of its fledgling economy. However, it is because of Clarkdale’s commonality with other communities that it could stand as a model for them to follow. Founded in 1912 by the United Verde Copper Company, Clarkdale was originally established to house miners and host smelters for the copper ore that was extracted from the nearby mines of Jerome, Arizona. http://www.clarkdale.az.us/history.html. Today, Clarkdale is a small community of only 3,680 residents. The original town site of Clarkdale is a listed historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. Located in Northern Arizona between the western bank of the Verde River and the foothills of the Black Hills mountain range, the town proudly boasts a scenic panorama that few other towns can rival. However, like many other communities across the country, Clarkdale has to contend with the daily challenges of ensuring for its residents reliable and clean water, efficient waste disposal, clean and affordable energy, and of course jobs.

In October 2009, Clarkdale’s city council unanimously voted to move forward with a “sustainability park,” which the council thought could have the potential to create jobs and revolutionize Clarkdale’s entire infrastructure to be environmentally sustainable. Moreover, beyond the benefits that the project may provide the town, it also could stand as a meaningful gesture of global environmental stewardship and stand as a model sustainable community.

The Clarkdale Sustainability Park:

The name of the “park” is a bit misleading, as the park has no one location in its current stage of planning and development. Instead, it is more accurate to describe it as a town-wide project aimed at supplying Clarkdale with renewable energy, non petroleum-based liquid fuels, clean waste disposal and recycling, a reliable potable water supply, and a new source of jobs. As boasted by the project’s website, http://clarkdalesustainabilitypark.org/, “the Clarkdale Sustainability Park is more than just a single site or a coordinated industrial district. It is truly a comprehensive economic development strategy for the Town of Clarkdale.”

The sustainability park is still in the midst of its planning and funding phase. Whether the park is finally located at single site or scattered throughout Clarkdale, the project remains one comprehensive plan. Rather than just a series of facilities, Clarkdale’s plan is to maximize efficiency with a well-planned interconnected infrastructure of waste treatment facilities, energy facilities, and fuel generators. http://verdenews.com/Main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=39817.

Specifically, the Clarkdale council plans to direct the construction of a plasma conversion facility, algal fuel generating facility, biodiesel facility, water efficient solar arrays, and a water purification facility. Many of these facilities and their functions interrelate. The plasma converter will produce clean energy through the gasification and combustion of waste. Thus, it will act as both an energy producer as well as a form of waste disposal. http://www.westinghouse-plasma.com/. The excess energy and heat produced by the plasma converter can power the water purification system, which will relieve the burden on the already over-taxed aquifer beneath the town. The solar arrays, also water savers, will supply energy to the residents as well as the remaining facilities. http://www.nrel.gov/pv/. The biodiesel and algal fuel facilities will supply the town with clean non-petroleum fuel. http://www.oilgae.com/; http://www.verdebiotrailers.com/index.html. The addition of these facilities will also supply Clarkdale with a much-needed infusion of jobs and economic growth.

Clarkdale’s small size lends itself to the project plans. Were it a bigger town, a complete overhaul of its infrastructure in one fell swoop might not be tenable. However, this is where the critics in large metropolises will probably point to say, “It won’t work for us.” Nonetheless, Clarkdale’s project will stand as a model of how sustainability can work for small and large communities alike. Many small towns may be able to simply imitate Clarkdale’s project, while others will have to adapt and reinvent it to fit their own size and circumstances, perhaps implementing their own sustainability projects on a piecemeal basis.


An ambitious plan, the Clarkdale Sustainability Park could beckon a new era of true sustainability for communities everywhere. The benefits of this project and others like it will be felt locally and globally, challenging the antiquated notion that to be environmentally sensitive one must sacrifice industry and prosperity. For all of our sake, let us hope that the council and residents of Clarkdale will be able to maintain the political will to see this plan through.

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