Amidst the global uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine, it is important to take stock of our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels, which has grave implications for our health and environment.
Despite many big oil and gas companies posting huge profits in 2021, the highest profits seen in years, energy costs for Arizona families are only climbing, and the assault on Ukraine has only heightened the importance of cutting fossil fuel pollution and transitioning to clean energy.
Arizona is at a crossroads, and our nation’s energy independence and energy security can only be achieved by accelerating the transition to clean, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. A recent report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that the fight to tackle climate change and keep global heating under 1.5 degrees Celsius has reached “now or never” territory.
Arizona residents are no strangers to the harm of extreme weather fueled by climate change. Without necessary reductions in carbon pollution, Arizona and much of the Western United States could be in for a brutal century of worsening extreme weather.
The consequences of climate inaction also threaten Arizonans’ and our nation’s security. A report on climate change and health found that Arizona ranked highly among the states most vulnerable to climate change. From 2014 to 2017, according to the report, deaths related to heat exposure more than tripled in Arizona, with most of these deaths concentrated in the Phoenix area, and low-wealth and Latino communities being hit the hardest.
For example, communities in Central, South, and West Phoenix disproportionately face several climate-related hazards. Most of its residents are people of color, and the majority reside in outdated, poorly insulated housing. The city of Phoenix has made record investments in new trees and cool corridors, shade structures and home weatherization, as well as creating the first publicly funded Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. We need to continue pursuing equity-based solutions as our nation plans a way forward through the climate crisis — our city could fast-track these efforts with strong federal support.
With these deadly heat waves becoming more dramatic and taking place more frequently, the need to move away from fossil fuels and transition to clean energy has never been more apparent. In 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed $550 billion in climate investments, delivering on clean energy, justice, and jobs for Arizonans. Now, after months of delay, the Senate needs to also pass these investments.
These investments would bolster what cities across Arizona are already doing. Indeed, the Phoenix Climate Action Plan offers a blueprint to mirror. The CAP outlines goals for different municipal sectors and provides benchmarks and solutions for combating climate change and improving the accessibility of our city. The issue of equity and environmental justice is central to the CAP, with the consideration of equitable solutions at the center of every advisement.
These solutions include the expansion and improvement of high-capacity transit systems and an imperative transition to electric vehicles. Electrification is a focus both internally, as we work to replace our city fleets with cleaner options, and by creating measurable goals for the public as well.
We must work together to substantially decrease carbon pollution from the transportation sector. By expanding public transit, communities would become more connected, and economic opportunities would become available to more individuals. This would be valuable not just for Phoenix but for cities across the country, particularly overburdened communities that are already more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Arizona’s leaders, including Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, need to act quickly and implement sweeping, bold climate solutions. By investing in public transit and projects that will create clean energy jobs, we have the chance to raise the standards of living for the entire state and generate good-paying, union jobs that ensure better opportunities for all. Arizonans deserve safe living spaces. Delivering on climate action with much-needed federal investments is the step we need right now.
Editor’s note: Yassamin Ansari represents District on the Phoenix City Council; Matt Capalby is director for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Northern Region, and serves a leadership role in the Phoenix Carpenters Union Local 1912.
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