Living with the Land: Living in a Harsh Desert Environment

Set against the unique, experimental architecture and built environments of Cosanti and Arcosanti, the first and final projects of innovative architect Paolo Soleri, The Cosanti Foundation is proud to present Living With The Land: Living in a Harsh Desert Environment. Featuring expert thought leaders and scholars in their respective fields, this series presents a unique opportunity to take a closer look and the delicate balance between the Earth’s ecology and humankind’s impact on our planet.

The Cosanti Foundation is a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to explore the experiential and educational benefits of integrating architecture and ecology.

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Upcoming Speakers



Jim Turner - Arizona Water Use and Farming Cultures, Prehistory to the Present


This presentation covers humankind’s water use and food supply interactions with Arizona’s ecology from Clovis Culture hunter-gatherers to proto-farmers to Hohokam irrigation canals, Hopi and Tohono O’odham dry farming, and present-day American farmers. We will examine archaeological studies of how overhunting and climate change affected the wooly mammoth populations and the experiments with agriculture that followed. From proto-farmers attempts to increase growth of certain plants to some the earliest irrigation canal projects in North America.

The Southwest’s indigenous people developed methods to survive the regions’ harsh climate. The Hopi and Tohono O’odham cultures not only altered their physical environment but developed a cultural belief system that espoused frugality and harmony with their natural surroundings. This presentation will also look at the life works of Professor Robert Forbes, who served at the University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station in the early 1900s and went on to father Arizona’s first groundwater laws as an Arizona legislator in the 1950s.

About Jim

Jim Turner moved to Arizona in 1951 and earned his masters degree in U.S. history from the University of Arizona in 1999. He has been an Arizona historian since 1976 and he retired from the Arizona Historical Society in 2009 to write Arizona: A Celebration of the Grand Canyon State. He taught Arizona history at Canyon del Oro High School for his student teaching in 1976, for the University of Arizona in 1999, for Central Arizona College 2009-2011, and has been a presenter for Elderhostel and Arizona Humanities for the past ten years. He is now an author and editor for Rio Nuevo Publishers, where his books include The Mighty Colorado from the Glaciers to the Gulf, Four Corners USA: the Wonders of the American Southwest, and The Navajo Code Talker Manual.

Lecture Date: Date TBD


Paul Hirt - How Clean Energy and High Capacity Batteries Are Changing Our World…For the Better!


Several interrelated technologies are quickly transforming the energy and transportation sectors. The changes are coming faster than anyone expected and will profoundly alter how we produce and consume electricity and how we move people and products around.

The old reliable fossil fuel based electric system is being fundamentally transformed by rapidly falling costs for solar panels, wind turbines, and high-efficiency batteries. The electric car and truck revolution is accelerating this trend. Paul Hirt explains the characteristics, causes, and likely consequences of this exciting energy transition that is sweeping the world.

About Paul

Paul Hirt is a Professor of History and Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University specializing in water, energy, and environmental sustainability. Hirt’s publications include a 2012 monograph on the history of electric power in the US Northwest and British Columbia titled The Wired Northwest, a 1994 monograph on the history of national forest management since WWII titled A Conspiracy of Optimism (1994), and more than two dozen articles and book chapters on various topics in environmental history. Dr. Hirt is also an elected member of the Board of Directors of Salt River Project.

Lecture Date:Date TBD


Matthew Goodwin - The Roden Crater Project and The Brilliance of Sustainability


This presentation will introduce James Turrell’s Roden Crater project, a site-specific work of monumental art outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, as an example of sustainable thinking. The project cooperates with the surrounding environment and results in something truly beautiful and inspiring.

It is brilliant in its use of light, in its thoughtfulness with its surroundings, and in the ways it directs participants to reflect upon themselves in relation to their surroundings. The project shows us that, far from taking us back to the dark ages, sustainability is both exciting and forward thinking.

About Matthew

Dr. Matthew Goodwin is Senior Lecturer of Philosophy at Northern Arizona University where he teaches environmental ethics, aesthetics, and phenomenology. He is an Arizona Humanities AZ Speaks Road Scholar, and co-founder of Sedona Philosophy.

Lecture Date: Date TBD


Dan Shilling - Aldo Leopold: Founding Voice of Environmental Ethics


Forester Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) is justly celebrated as the founding voice of environmental ethics, even though the discipline did not exist when his book, A Sand County Almanac, was published posthumously in 1949. His collection of essays popularized the idea of a “land ethic,” and, like Henry David Thoreau, Leopold eventually became required reading across the curriculum: conservation, philosophy, history, literature.

At the time of his death, Aldo Leopold was teaching some of the nation’s first college courses in ecology at the University of Wisconsin, at the same time he and his family were experimenting with land management at “The Shack,” fifty miles north of Madison. Rather than focus on his later Midwestern years, however, this presentation maintains that the seeds of Leopold’s revolutionary thinking can be found in his early years as a forester in Arizona and New Mexico (1909-1924). In particular, the talk explores how Native American attitudes toward the human-nature relationship helped to shape Leopold’s 40-year intellectual journey.

About Dan

Dan is the former executive director of Arizona Humanities, where he worked for nearly 20 years. Since leaving AH, he has co-directed three NEH summer institutes on environmental ethics, given dozens of presentations on place-based economic development, and authored or edited several books, including Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Methods for Environmental Sustainability (Cambridge 2018). A former high school teacher, Dan holds a PhD in literature from ASU. He has served on dozens of boards and commissions; to acknowledge his many contributions to the state, ASU presented him its most prestigious honor, the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Lecture Date: Date TBD


Robin Pinto - The Value and Importance of Water in the Desert: the History of Agua Caliente Spring


Water. In our desert environment, it is a precious resource that none of us can live without. It has significant values, both natural and cultural. A spring of cool, clear water is an oasis, a respite from the heat; it is seen as a place of healing; and many are drawn to it as a traditional, sacred site. Agua Caliente Spring in southern Arizona has been an important community attraction for millennia.

Over the last 150 years, owners, both private and public, have struggled to protect, and at the same time, to share this remarkable resource and its surrounding landscape. The challenge of balancing different, and sometimes conflicting, values is instructive for us today.

About Robin

Robin Pinto studies the evolution of cultural landscapes in Arizona and focuses on four issues of historic change: early settlement and homesteading, New Deal federal work programs, ranching on public lands, and development of our national parks. She has an MLA and PhD from the University of Arizona. She writes landscape assessments for the National Park Service and works with the BLM to study landscape change at the Empire Ranch and Cienega Creek watershed in southern Arizona. She volunteers with a number of land trusts and preservation organizations. With three other historians, she recently published a book called “Cowboys and Cowgirls around Ajo, Arizona.”

Lecture Date: Date TBD


Allen Dart - The Antiquity of Irrigation in the Southwest


Before AD 1500, Native American cultures took advantage of southern Arizona’s long growing season and tackled its challenge of limited precipitation by developing the earliest and most extensive irriga- tion works in all of North America. Agriculture was introduced to Arizona more than 4,000 years before present, and irrigation systems were developed in our state at least 3,500 years ago – several hundred years before irrigation was established in ancient Mexico.

This presentation by archaeologist Allen Dart provides an overview of ancient irrigation systems in the southern Southwest and discusses irrigation’s implications for understanding social complexity.

About Allen

Registered Professional Archaeologist Allen Dart has worked in Arizona and New Mexico since 1975 for federal and state governments, private companies, and nonprofit organizations. He is the executive director of Tucson’s nonprofit Old Pueblo Archaeology Center, which he founded in 1993 to provide educational and scientific programs in archaeology, history, and cultures.

Al has been an Arizona Humanities speaker since 1997. He has received the Arizona Archaeological Society’s Professional Archaeologist of the Year Award, the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society’s Victor R. Stoner Award, the Arizona Governor's Archaeology Advisory Commission Award in Public Archaeology, and other honors for his efforts to bring archaeology and history to the public.

Lecture Date: Thursday, May 7th   |   7 - 8:30 pm at Cosanti


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Gregory McNamee - The Gila: River of History


Six hundred miles long from its source in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico to its confluence with the Colorado River above Yuma, the Gila has been an important avenue for the movement of birds, animals, plants, and peoples across the desert for millennia. Many cultures have sprung up on its banks, and millions of people depend on the river today—whether they know it or not.

Gregory McNamee, author of the prizewinning book Gila: The Life and Death of an American River, presents a biography of this vital resource, drawing on Native American stories, pioneer memoirs, the writings of modern naturalists such as Aldo Leopold and Edward Abbey, and many other sources. Think of it as 70 million years of history packed into an entertaining, informative hour.

About Gregory

Gregory McNamee is a writer, editor, photographer, and publisher. He is the author or title-page editor of more than 40 books and author of more than 6,000 periodical pieces, including articles, essays, reviews, interviews, editorials, poems, and short stories.

McNamee is the editor of Zócalo, an arts-and-culture magazine published in Tucson. He is a contributing editor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He is also a contributing editor to Kirkus Reviews, the leading publication of the book trade. He writes regularly for many other journals and sites, and his work has appeared in such venues as Science, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Outside, Smithsonian, AARP, and Native Peoples.

Lecture Date: Thursday, May 14th   |   7 - 8:30 pm at Cosanti


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Patrick McWhortor et. al. - Arcosanti at 50: How Arizona’s Unique Urban Laboratory Put Sustainability on the Map


In July 1970, led by a visionary Italian-born architect from Phoenix, Paolo Soleri, a group of urban idealists picked up shovels and began constructing a demonstration project to showcase a new way of designing cities. During the next 50 years, more than 8,000 volunteers would join them, most for six weeks at a time, to build the “urban laboratory” that sits atop a 4,000-foot high mesa just north of metropolitan Phoenix.

Run by the Cosanti Foundation, Arcosanti today is home to about 80 people who live and work in this unique experiment of the urban form. Foundation President & CEO Patrick McWhortor will interview several alumni of Arcosanti to talk about the project’s place in Arizona history, the sustainability movement and the effort to shape the international conversation.

The alumni range from architects to ecologists to historians, who share their perspectives about how Arcosanti influenced generations of environmentally conscious thinkers across the world.

About Patrick

Patrick has more than 30 years of experience in community leadership, adult learning development and higher education. He has started, led and grown educational capacity building nonprofits, including the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits. In those capacities, he has developed many adult learning programs for diverse audiences across Arizona. He has also been an adjunct professor of nonprofit studies, philanthropy and public policy at Arizona State University and the Maricopa Community Colleges since 1994.

Lecture Date: Saturday, May 30th   |   1 - 2:30 pm at Arcosanti


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