The climate crisis affects Arizonans differently, but action will benefit us all

October 26, 2021 11:32 am

Illustration via Getty Images

The 360-degree view of Phoenix atop Piestewa Peak is the ultimate reward for hikers like me who trek to the top. It also showcases the disparities in Phoenix neighborhoods: Some filled with lush trees and landscaping, others with gravel and palm trees. 

It wasn’t until I studied environmental health that I understood how this disparity often leads to temperatures 10 degrees hotter in under-resourced neighborhoods compared to high-income areas. The City of Phoenix Climate Action Plan describes how it will mitigate rising temperatures, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to climate change. While I commend the city for this plan, the reality of climate change demands large-scale action that cities simply can’t implement alone. 

Extreme heat. Drought. Wildfire. Arizonans understand these are serious threats to our way of life. I am not alone — in fact, a majority of  Arizonans are worried about the climate crisis. The reason is simple: we already suffer from the negative impacts of these climate-related disasters today. 

We’ve seen how wildfires and extreme weather devastate our communities, from the Telegraph Fire near Superior, to deadly flooding in Gila Bend. In 2020, Arizona reported a record-breaking 835 deaths associated with heat. Extreme heat and weather hurt seniors, outdoor workers, communities of color and the homeless disproportionately. Without addressing climate change, heat-related death and illness will only get worse. Without climate action, intensifying wildfires and weather will continue to cost Arizonans their lives, property, and livelihoods.  

Tackling the climate crisis makes economic sense for Arizona. Modernizing our transportation infrastructure would grow our economy and attract new industries and jobs. New electrification and energy efficiency programs would not only spur new jobs across the state, but also increase tribal ownership of new, clean energy production.  

Investment in renewable energy benefits Arizona’s environment and public health. Thanks to our existing renewable energy resources, we’ve saved enough water to serve nearly 44,000 Arizonans each year since 2006. Renewable energy emits fewer air pollutants that exacerbate conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We’ve also seen a 3% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions, which is vital to reducing climate change impacts. With additional investments in renewable energy, these benefits will only increase.  

As Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly continue negotiating the Build Back Better Act, I urge them to support infrastructure and clean energy investments in order to build up the economy, combat climate change and benefit Arizona’s working families.

Time is running out, and Arizona needs its senators to act now on climate, clean energy, justice and jobs.

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Mary McGillicuddy
Mary McGillicuddy

Mary McGillicuddy is a member of Solar United Neighbors of Arizona and a native Phoenician. She earned a masters of public health from Emory University.