Climate Smart Southwest: Are YOU Ready for Climate Change?
Is it hot enough for ya?
In the coming years, as temperatures rise, weather patterns evolve, and plant and animal species become extinct, that wry, old country greeting will lose it’s quaint humor. Thanks to global warming.
The Southwest is already the hottest and driest part of the US. And our region is already experiencing longer and more intense heat waves, a dramatic spike in forest fires and severe dust storms, and changes in rainfall and seasonal snowmelt. These changes threaten water resources, food security, and public health. As extreme weather events continue to increase, we will see higher rates of heat stress, newly emerging infectious diseases, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses.
How will the Sonoran Desert change as climate change progresses? Will we have enough water? What will our air quality be like if Arizona’s dirty coal-fired power plants continue to balk at environmental regulations? How will Arizona cope with rolling brown outs if electrical demand spikes? How will Tucson’s vulnerable populations fare with more days over 100 degrees? What can we do NOW to lessen the impact of climate change on our fragile environment?
This coming weekend, Sept. 20-21, the Arizona Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is sponsoring an important conference for us desert dwellers: Climate Smart Southwest, Ready or Hot?
Friday night features a free public lecture by Dr. Eric Klinenberg, author of the best-selling book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago. The talk will be from 7 to 8 pm at the TEP Unisource Building Conference Room, 88 E. Broadway in downtown Tucson.
One of the many Saturday speakers is Dr. Greg Garfin, climate researcher from The University of Arizona, and co-author of a new paper which assess climate change impacts on health, water, agriculture, energy supply and demand, ecosystems, transportation, and our communities. The day-long schedule on Saturday has speakers, workshops, and strategy sessions; Saturday events will be held at the Tucson Convention Center. (Check out the schedule here. And register here.)
Arizona is no stranger to heat and an arid climate. But the “Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States” concludes that decade 2001-2010 was warmer than any prior decade in the last 110 years. The warming trend in global temperatures over the past 50 years, primarily driven by human-caused increases in greenhouse-gas emissions, is projected to continue, producing longer and hotter heat waves in the Southwest.
Especially troubling for Arizona is the reduction of water availability as declines in soil moisture, late-season snowpack and river flow continue. Water has always been a critical issue for Arizona and innovative water management has allowed the state to thrive and grow.
But climate change will place a heavy strain on an already scarce resource.
Wildfires also pose a growing threat as changes in temperature, soil moisture and vegetation fuel longer and more destructive fire seasons. In 2011, we glimpsed this future when the Wallow Fire – the largest fire in Arizona history – burned over 500,000 acres. It will only get worse as climate change accelerates.
If greenhouse-gas emissions continue on their current path, by mid-century Tucson will have a projected additional 34 days a year (an extra month) of 100-plus-degree days and 25 more 110-plus-degree days. Our future prosperity will evaporate along with our water supplies.
As a scientist, I look at climate change through a lens of data and peer-reviewed reports. But when I take off my strictly scientific hat and look at the issue more broadly as an Arizona citizen who cares deeply about my community and the future of Tucson, I can reach only one responsible conclusion: We must change our trajectory. We must prepare for the impacts we cannot avoid, while we prevent the impacts that we cannot prepare for by slowing climate change dramatically.
Although the conference is being organized by PSR, a coalition of community and national organizations as well as local leaders are co-sponsors. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA Tucson, Arizona, and National); the City of Tucson; the Pima Association of Governments; several major employers; and many non-profits are sponsors . The purpose is to build new and fortify existing cross-cultural, community, and governmental partnerships to educate and engage community action to address the anticipated public health impacts of climate change in the Southwest.