Claims That Metro Phoenix Is Doomed Because of Climate Change Are Exaggerated

A  scorching, 120-degree breeze stirs dust in the streets before passing through the windowless ruins of former mansions on the flanks of Camelback Mountain.

The largest ghost town in history extends to every horizon of the Valley of the Sun — now a superheated no man's land of crumbling walls, dead trees, and dry, debris-filled pits that used to be swimming pools. Only a few settlements remain, mostly to provide services for people passing through.

The date is January 1, 2114.

Metro Phoenix gets about half of its water from Apache Lake (seen here) and other lakes on the Salt River reservoir system, providing a buffer against smaller flows from the Colorado River.
Wikimedia Commons/Bernard Gagnon
Metro Phoenix gets about half of its water from Apache Lake (seen here) and other lakes on the Salt River reservoir system, providing a buffer against smaller flows from the Colorado River.
Andrew Ross, a New York University sociology professor, still maintains that Phoenix is the "world's least sustainable city," as his 2011 book states.
Andrew Ross, a New York University sociology professor, still maintains that Phoenix is the "world's least sustainable city," as his 2011 book states.

Phoenix, like the mythical bird it was named after, has died once again. Only there will be no hope-affirming resurrection this time.

As the Hohokam abandoned the area in the 1400s following a good run of more than a millennium, modern settlers also now have fled.

The catastrophe didn't happen overnight. It followed decades of little to no flow from the Colorado River, extended drought in the Gila and Salt watersheds, and the pumping of all groundwater. The southwestern United States was seen as the bull's-eye of climate change in the early 21st century, and central Arizona was slammed with an epic drought as bad as or worse than anything in the prehistoric record.

Time-travel back to 2014: Warnings of such a bleak future are sounding.

Looking into their crystal balls, some environmentalists and climate experts envision this science-fiction-like destiny for the region, give or take a few decades. At best, they see a region beset by extreme global-warming effects that spur not total abandonment, perhaps, but an economic tailspin, population decline, and far fewer days of pleasant weather for the hardy souls who choose to remain here.

"Temperatures could regularly hit the 130s in Phoenix by the second half of this century due to human-caused climate change," University of Arizona climate-change scientist Jonathan Overpeck told an Arizona legislative panel in 2009.

The question isn't whether the manmade Colorado River reservoirs Lake Mead and Lake Powell will go dry, it's when, Overpeck said. And it might happen by 2050. Economic calamity would result.

"Once the Central Arizona Project [canal] goes dry for one year, our state is dead," Overpeck warned. "People won't want to live here anymore."

In the 2010 book Dead Pool, geologist James Lawrence Powell offers a more comprehensively bleak future for the Valley than the one presented. It says it will happen in the 2020s.

Following a water emergency and economic collapse, Powell describes how residents will flee: "Businesses and families begin to abandon Phoenix, creating a Grapes of Wrath-like exodus in reverse. Long lines of vehicles clog the freeways, heading east toward the Mississippi and north toward Oregon and Washington. Burning, hot, parched, and broke, the city that rose from the ashes achieves its apogee and falls back toward the fire."

A 2011 book about Phoenix, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, paints a gloomy portrait of an area burdened by insurmountable challenges. The author, Andrew Ross, a New York University professor of social and cultural analysis, plays up the apocalyptic visions of future Phoenix for full effect.

Ross' book quotes Jeff Williamson, former director of the Phoenix Zoo who now lives in Los Angeles, stating that modern civilization based on self-destructive human decisions will fall faster here than anywhere else.

"I hope that Phoenix goes down to about 40,000 people," Williamson is quoted as saying.

Ross shares with readers the belief of San Francisco essayist Rebecca Solnit, who stated: "Phoenix will be like the Jericho or Ur of the Chaldees, with the shriveled relics of golf courses and the dusty hulls of swimming pools added on."

Recent doomsayers include conservationist William deBuys, who lives on a remote farm in New Mexico and imagines Phoenicians "taking the road out of town" sooner rather than later — perhaps "one or several decades" from now.

"If cities were stocks, you'd want to short Phoenix," says the first line of a widely published March 14 op-ed by deBuys, author of 2011's A Great Aridness.

Though the article originally was headlined "Phoenix in the Climate Crosshairs: We Are Long Past Coal Mine Canaries," it was picked up by countless blogs and Internet news sites and placed under headlines like, "Phoenix May Not Survive Climate Change" (salon.com) and "Could Phoenix Soon Become Uninhabitable?" (thenation.com).

Surrounded by blackened wildlands scorched by fire and plagued by epic dust storms that "bring life to a standstill," deBuys' future Phoenix is Hell on Earth.

After describing a litany of challenges faced by the country's 13th-largest metro area, deBuys concludes that when Valley residents "clog the interstates heading for greener, wetter pastures, more than the brutal heat of a new climate paradigm will be driving them away. The breakdown of cooperation and connectedness will spur them along, too."

Locally, the Arizona Republic has jumped on the Phoenix-is-doomed bandwagon.

Say goodbye to the beautiful autumns and winters we love, according to a November 2012 Republic article by Michael Clancy: "Ultimately, in a worst-case scenario, the experts predict a 'summer' season running from April to January, with temperatures near or above 100 degrees."

The most disturbing thing about all these predictions is that a vast number of people believe them — even though they're full of hot air.

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8 comments
johnnymorales1
johnnymorales1

If people ever accept building homes mostly underground with only skylights or a single room above ground then Phoenix will have no problem surviving.


Building underground doesn't require digging deep holes. Homes could still be built above ground for the most part with waterproof materials Etc., and then have dirt heaped around them.


The result if creatively managed would be a collection of hills but with windows and various other decorations that could still be built on the outside just like we do with houses.


The other alternative would be to opt for a building homes using giant quarry blocks instead of the thin walls we currently build and do away with wood entirely for exterior wall construction save for interior home design. 


Developments could take on the look of mini-Petras.


It's our obsession with having a home fully above ground designed with the Midwestern climate in mind, completely exposed to the elements that requires such heavy resource utilization.


Sure we have great insulation today, but it would be completely unnecessary if most of the house we build was underground underground.

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By keeping most construction underground, the land would not contribute to higher temperatures via hot concrete and asphalt. 

Runoff would be allowed to return to a more natural form and nurture the land replenish the water table like it used to rather than rushing off into the concrete drainage system.

maxplanck0
maxplanck0

It remains to be seen if the groundswell of new immigrants will tolerate the intensity and duration of the summers here. Yes, they have in the past but not everyone makes the transition of their initial summer, "trial by fire." I did, but that was in years past, when Baseline Road was still 2 lanes and populated with citrus groves.

John Cady
John Cady

Where are the breasts though?

Judy Hedding
Judy Hedding

Wow. Five posts in a row without any breasts.

Anita Mahaffey
Anita Mahaffey

The damage is more likely to occur because of the crumbling infrastructure. The Phoenix Metropolitan Area, and especially Mesa, are ignoring the immediate needs of the community. SRP, the County, and the State are "helpless," due to budget constraints. The City of Mesa Mayor's Office is happy to let the existing community languish, while they look for opportunities for new development. The desert, and it's natural inhabitants can't take much more of this abuse, not to mention that the citizenry and law enforcement and safety officials are in constant danger.

DNichols
DNichols

Thank goodness satelite guided Jet Drones are spraying various "Chemtrails" over Metro Phoenix 24/7 to block out U.V. rays, and lower the surface temperature.

Look up People due to this Phony "High Cloud" spraying the temperatures in Phoenix are being manipulated, and are about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than they would be otherwise.

We are countering the adverse effects of man made pollution with yet further man made pollution.

The main "Chemtrails" being sprayed in the air we must breathe now is White Aresol,the more they spray the lower our visibility.

Look around at the White air pollution that matches the color of the "Chemtrails."

This "Chemtrail" spraying will slow the effects of Global Warming for a few more years, however with out it plant life in Phoenix would already be adversly effected.

Look up people it is easy to see if you have both eyes, and an open mind to see reality.

Lockhead Martin had a TV commercial showing a satelite, then the cloud covered Earth, and called it "Climate Control."

Down side to "Chemtrails is Heart Disease, Lung Disease, COPD, Alzhiemners, Dementia, Breast Cancer, and many other Cancers, and Diseases.

 
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