Although the Arizona Legislature and governor continue to outright deny or completely ignore the impacts of climate change, the news for Arizona is not good.
This week, the National Climate Assessment looked at what is happening and is projected to happen relative to climate change throughout the country, including here in the Southwest. This assessment came from a team of more than 300 experts, including some from Arizona, and was reviewed by a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the assessment, “The Southwest is already experiencing the impacts of climate change.” It is no surprise that temperatures are going up; that has been affirmed in various research and reports over the past decade. The assessment reveals that temperatures from 2001–2010 were nearly 2 degrees warmer than they were historically in the past 110 years and that it has been hotter in the past 60-plus years than in any comparable period in the previous 600 years. That information is sobering.
A glimpse at the future is cause for even more concern. The assessment indicates hotter temperatures ahead and more, longer, and more intense heat waves. We should expect some parts of Arizona to be much drier and, overall, to see decreased flows in our rivers and streams. Because the water supply is already dwindling in rivers that we depend on for much of our drinking water — and that wildlife rely on as a critical component of their habitat — we just cannot afford to do nothing to address climate change.
Will the decreased flows mean stretches of rivers, such as the Verde and San Pedro, dry up? What happens when the Colorado River, a river that is already over-allocated, has even further reduced flows? This does not bode well for us and certainly not for the plants and animals that rely on these all-important rivers. In fact, climate change will increase stress on plants and animals, especially those that are already living on the edge.
The assessment indicates there will be even more dead trees and large fires in our future. We have already seen a lot of those in the past decade. Climate change is also going to exacerbate the heat-island effect in our cities and will mean higher ozone levels, too. We cannot afford this, either economically or from a public health perspective. We all know and have seen how heat can kill.
All of these impacts will hit our economy. If we ignore this report and the scientists at our own state’s universities, we do so at our own peril.
Currently, we have a governor who says she does not believe climate change is caused by people, who repealed the state’s clean car rule, and who stopped participating in regional carbon reduction programs. The Arizona Legislature is even worse as it seeks to erect impediments to clean renewable energy and to energy-saving programs, plus passed a bill that limits agency actions on reducing carbon pollution. Governor Brewer also signed that bill in 2010.
Arizona must get serious about better preparing for the impacts of climate change, reducing other stresses on plants and animals, taking action to reduce the urban heat-island effect in our cities, and, most certainly, reducing our carbon emissions, most of which come from transportation and power plants.
At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward with the limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Rather than standing in the way, Arizona should step up to implement it — and do more. We need to prepare and plan and do all we can to ensure that this critically important issue and its costs are not just left to future generations.
— Sandy Bahr is chapter director of the Sierra Club — Grand Canyon Chapter.