Extreme heat has made summer a particularly deadly time for vulnerable populations throughout Arizona. Last summer, over 500 people — many of them seniors — tragically perished following days of unrelenting temperatures soaring far past 100 degrees.
In Arizona, we know all too well high temperatures. But the extreme heat we are experiencing is the direct result of decades of unmitigated, human-driven climate change. A recent report from the world’s leading scientists has even confirmed the link between our actions and the climate crisis – with devastating impacts for places like Arizona.
Last year was the second-hottest year on record, and 2021 is poised to surpass that record-shattering heat. The Western United States has observed some of the largest increases in temperatures over the past several decades and is expected to continue to warm with increasing frequency and intensity. Today, nearly 200,000 Arizonans are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat. While our state currently averages nearly 50 dangerous heat days each year, that number is projected to soar to 80 by 2050. Extreme heat is the deadliest form of extreme weather, and this trajectory should concern us all.
Over the last decade, Arizona has experienced 13 extreme weather events costing the state up to $10 billion in damages. These temperatures aren’t just deadly. They also come at an immense price, crush our economy and destroy our infrastructure. Hotter, drier summers are disastrous for the U.S. economy, causing agricultural losses, loss of income for outdoor workers, and increased energy costs. Without immediate action to address climate change, extreme weather events will continue to harm our communities and cost our taxpayers money.
Extreme heat can be a death sentence for vulnerable populations such as seniors and the homeless. I’m heartened to see organizations in Phoenix, such as the Justa Center, provide life-sustaining services, including cooling stations, to homeless seniors on their path back to housing. All communities across Arizona and the nation, however, need real change to meet this critical moment and protect those who are already living in extreme and dangerous weather conditions right now.
The easiest way to do this is to modernize our infrastructure and move toward a clean energy economy. Congress has the tools to get this done by passing a budget that makes much-needed investments in our clean energy future to create millions of family-supporting clean energy jobs, build resilient communities, and reduce pollution that is fueling these climate disasters and threatening public health.
The Build Back Better Budget tackles climate change head-on and sets climate goals that put America on a path to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 80% and economy-wide pollution by at least 50% by 2030. It also will make the investments we need to put people back to work in good-paying jobs, fight the climate crisis threatening our health, economy and environment, prioritize environmental justice, and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.
With each year that passes bringing worsening heat waves and raging wildfires, Arizonans know climate change is not some distant threat but a clear and present danger. Time is running out, and Arizonans need their leaders in Congress, including Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, to lead on clean energy growth and support a budget that makes investments to cut pollution, create jobs, address environmental injustice, and tackle the climate crisis. Now is our moment to go big, be bold, and put more people to work.
Sen. Lela Alston represents Legislative District 24 in Phoenix in the Arizona Senate.
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