As worldwide environmental conditions appear increasingly dire, members of society turn to a new generation of thinkers and activists to enact changes that will shield the human race from the impacts of climate-induced suffering.
With predictions of drought, famine, and infrastructural collapse made by the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change, many are left to wonder whether anything can truly be done to improve the situation.
Despite unfavorable odds, one individual has worked tirelessly to promote climate awareness and environmental sustainability in the northern Arizona community.
Tyler Linner, an NAU student who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Sustainable Communities, has been heavily involved in the founding and implementation of several projects and programs, each aimed at making advancements in environmental stewardship on a local level.
As an award-winning activist, Linner attempts to live his life, from both a practical and philosophical standpoint, with great care and respect for the environment.
Ginger Christenson, head coordinator for the Sustainable Communities program, has worked closely with Linner during his time at NAU to craft hands-on learning experiences that fall directly in line with Linner’s pursuits as an activist. Christenson said that, in her experience, Linner has never lacked in enthusiasm toward environmental issues.
“He’s very motivated and has boundless energy,” Christenson said. “Tyler just has a lot of excitement and holds true to his convictions. He’s passionate — almost vehement — about being zero-waste.”
Christenson said Linner strives for sustainability, not only in the classroom, but in his own household as well. She said his philosophy extends into the most rudimentary choices of his daily life.
“Linner lives in a sustainable household with two other students,” Christenson said. “The roommates, through their lifestyle choices, have prevented a lot of waste from making it to a landfill.”
Although the clutter in Linner’s house might disqualify it from appearing in an issue of, the heaps of plastics, tools, blueprints and repurposed materials lying around each have a special purpose in the group’s eco-friendly pursuits.
“I’m not very organized, partly because I don’t have time and partly because my mind is going too fast,” Linner said. “I know it’s time to tidy up when I can’t find something for a long period of time.”
With the help of his roommate Darren Bingham and girlfriend Francisca Alvarado, Linner has crafted a nearly zero-waste human habitat in his own home and implemented lifestyle choices that contradict the American norm of excessive household waste.
Signs of the trio’s uncommon lifestyle can be seen throughout their home. Large, repurposed paint buckets filled with liquid are scattered about Linner’s lawn. They are buckets of collected rainwater he and his roommates use to flush their toilets in an attempt to minimize household water use.
A reclaimed blender, toaster and coffee pot sit atop the kitchen counter, and a compost bucket takes the place of a plastic-lined trash bin on the floor. A modest pollinator-friendly garden occupies their porch space, and stacks of old abandoned bikes lie against the wall, awaiting renovation and resale by Linner himself.
Linner said he subscribes to a philosophy that goes further than limiting personal waste. He said he seeks to reverse a dangerous cycle by taking on people’s trash as his personal treasure.
“Oftentimes, people view taking only what they need as the highest moral imperative,” Linner said. “But, if we focus on taking only what we’re given and what’s already there, then we start to revitalize the natural environmental systems in place.”
Linner gave an in-home demonstration of the tools used in his latest project and master’s thesis, Praxis Plastics. The project centers around Flagstaff’s litter problem. Linner uses an open-sourced, self-assembled shredding machine to turn broken, abandoned plastic sleds into reusable chunks of plastic.
“It takes about an hour to shred a gallon of plastic,” said Linner amid a clatter of crumbling plastic. “The shredder I’m working with now isn’t perfect. Sometimes it jams and plastic gets stuck in there.”
Linner has partnered with a local outdoor shop, Snow Mountain River, to research ways in which plastic can be melted down and turned into viable consumer products — specifically rock-climbing equipment.
Linner said he’s always had a mechanically oriented mind and draws upon his experience as a former sculptor for General Motors (GM) to design and manufacture tools that benefit the health of the environment.
Ultimately, it was his long-held appreciation for nature, paired with the fatigue that came with a corporate lifestyle, that led Linner to leave his job at GM and begin work on his master’s degree. Linner also said his past experiences as a Boy Scout offers inspiration in his fight for environmental protection.
“I was one of three people in the GM design center who rode my bike to work every single day, no matter what,” Linner said. “Eventually, I realized that car design is cool, but it didn’t feel like I was really doing anything to improve the world.”
Arguably one of Linner’s most significant achievements came through his leadership of the Northern Arizona Pollinator Habitat Initiative (NAZPHI). Founded in 2017 by former NAU Sustainability Coordinator Ellen Vaughn, NAZPHI is a collaborative effort between several local businesses, educators and organizations to increase pollinator activity and raise awareness about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in the region.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, CCD refers to the rapid disappearance of honeybees, a phenomenon that threatens the world food supply, as edible plant populations die off due to a lack of living pollinators.
NAZPHI’s website says the organization has, in just two short years, “exponentially increased the number of Flagstaff-area pollinator gardens, distributed hundreds of native pollinator-friendly seed packets throughout the community and created an initiative to place bans on the use of harmful pesticides.”
In late 2018, Linner was awarded a Crescordia Award for Site Development by the Salt River Project for his work on NAZPHI related projects.
“It was affirming to know that my work is appreciated and was recognized statewide,” Linner said. “When I’m working on a project, it’s really easy to lose track and think that no one cares.”
Linner said despite progress made by environmental caretakers on campus, he feels that NAU, as a whole, is not living up to its image as an environmentally friendly school. This, he said, is due to a lack of support from administrative staff regarding a number of projects proposed by students in the sustainable communities program.
One such project would have involved the construction of a mobile learning garden out of an old trailer provided by the NAU Fleet Services department. Linner said he believes the garden could have been a powerful tool in promoting environmental awareness in Flagstaff.
“It seems like every time you turn around, the administration is trying to undermine everything we do,” Linner said. “We got a bunch of materials donated from different companies across Arizona and received a $20,000 grant from the Green Fund. Then we ran up against Space Management at NAU — a committee that determines the use of campus grounds. They wouldn’t approve a space for us to store the wagon due to concern for future campus expansions.”
Linner expressed frustration toward administrative responses to new environmental projects on campus and said that, unless things change, the university will struggle to lead as an eco-friendly institution.
“It’s this systemic issue of our administrators’ pay being, as far as I know, based on numbers of new enrollments and not upon living up to our environmental promises as a university,” Linner said. “You can’t have economic stability without environmental stability, because you’re eventually going to run into environmental problems that will threaten economic sustainability.”
Despite the challenges faced by the three roommates, Alvarado said it’s been a privilege to live and work alongside like-minded and determined individuals like Bingham and Linner.
“It’s amazing,” Alvarado said. “It’s a lot of fun. The three of us form this trifecta. Darren is really good at motivating us, while Tyler is really good at piecing projects together. I take care of the paperwork and encourage continued discussions about projects we want to do.”
Above all else, Linner said it’s support from people like Bingham, Christenson and Alvarado that keep him fixated on accomplishing his goals
“I have to give Fran a lot of credit,” Linner said “She got me interested in recycling plastic. She’s been there to help me get things done and to keep this project going. I couldn’t have done this alone.”
Linner, alongside his tight-knit network of environmentally focused individuals, is working to make seemingly impossible changes a reality in northern Arizona. Linner’s actions are proof that living a waste-free, environmentally sustainable life is possible for college students in today’s fast-paced and overly wasteful society.