Most Arizonans don’t need to be convinced that our climate is changing, especially after this summer. It was hot, dry and deadly. And we have the records to prove it.
Phoenix recorded more than 50 days of 110-degree heat or higher. The previous record was 33 days.
The monsoon barely registered as a blip. The Valley averaged less than half an inch of rain, which is more than two inches less than normal.
But the worst record is the one we’re still determining, which is the number of people who lost their lives to heat-related illnesses.
As of the end of August, Maricopa County was investigating more than 260 heat-related deaths, more than double the number they investigated a year prior.
Our state’s large death toll is one of the reasons heat is now the deadliest of weather events, killing more people than hurricanes or tornadoes, even flooding.
The evidence our planet is warming is literally beating down on us daily, yet some politicians are still questioning whether or not it’s real and if humans play a role in the process.
At last week’s Clean Elections debate for the Arizona Corporation Commission, candidate Jim O’Connor actually said, “I’m not convinced” that climate change is caused by man’s activities.
I’m not going to list the numerous scientific studies that prove humans are, indeed, contributing to the planet’s warming temperatures. If people don’t believe in the science by now, then it’s unlikely anything I write will convince them.
But for those who aren’t living in denial, it’s important to know whether candidates understand the urgency of this issue, especially those running for an office where they can affect change. Like, for instance, those running for the Arizona Corporation Commission, a board which regulates our state’s utilities and helps ensure safe and reliable water and power, among other tasks.
Once upon a time, the commission acted in a bipartisan manner to combat climate change, setting renewable energy standards and implementing incentives for rooftop solar (also known as net metering). We led on climate action.
Today, we’ve fallen behind neighboring states. Our renewable energy standards haven’t budged. We’re still targeting 15% renewable energy by 2025, while Colorado mandated 30% renewables by 2020 and has a goal of 100% by 2040. New Mexico is requiring its utilities generate 50% of its electricity through renewable sources by 2030 and 80% by 2040.
So, what happened in Arizona?
Climate change became politicized, and our state’s largest electric company, Arizona Public Service, started funneling millions into campaigns to elect its favored regulators, who then voted to phase out net metering and increase rates for APS customers — policy changes the utility requested.
At last week’s Clean Elections debate, the six candidates vying for three seats on the commission had an opportunity to describe what role, if any, the commission has in fighting climate change by setting requirements for utilities.
The three Democrats — Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar, and Shea Stanfield — believe Arizona should follow the lead of other states and take a more aggressive approach. They refer to themselves as “the solar team” and want to immediately increase renewable energy standards and energy efficiency incentives.
Republican Lea Márquez-Peterson, who was appointed to the commission in 2019 by Gov. Doug Ducey, touted her plan for 100% clean energy by 2050. (Her plan has been criticized for being a goal and not actually a requirement, meaning utilities would be the ones to figure out how or if that goal is met.)
It should also be noted that “clean” energy is different from “renewable” energy. Clean includes energy produced by nuclear power, which, although carbon-free, also produces radioactive waste that must be disposed of. Márquez-Peterson’s plan does not detail the percentage of energy that must come from renewable sources.
The other two Republican candidates — Eric Sloan and Jim O’Connor — are opposed to all standards and incentives. O’Connor said at the debate that he is a “free market capitalist” who doesn’t believe in “social redistribution.” Sloan — who was fired from the Arizona Department of Gaming because of harassment claims and chaired an independent expenditure campaign to elect APS’ favored candidates in 2016 — echoed a similar philosophy, saying that in place of mandates, we should “let the market decide.”
If Arizona doesn’t take quick action to address a changing climate, the market may very well decide that our state, home of some of the fastest-warming cities in the country, is just too hot to attract new residents, visitors or businesses.
Voters will make the ultimate decision. Will we be a state that mitigates or ignores climate change?