Even without climate change, "mega-droughts" strangled the region periodically in the time of the Hohokam, lessening rainfall for decades at a time. If one of these mega-droughts takes hold and is worsened by reduced rainfall from climate change, according to a forthcoming article in the American Meteorological Society Journal, decades of stream flows "much lower than have been observed in the past 100 years would result."

But a regional mega-drought combined with climate change would affect other Western U.S. cities, too. Phoenix, more experienced in providing water for millions of people in a dry and drought-prone environment, indeed is better prepared for the possibility of a warmer, drier future than many cities.

Faced with less water and a larger population, the smaller towns and rural areas of Arizona will face stalled growth long before Phoenix.

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.

"There is no new [Central Arizona Project] to unite Arizona water users with tantalizing visions of more water in the future," writes Thomas Sheridan in the 2012 edition of Arizona: A History. "The water we have now will flow up hills, down hills, and sideways toward money, and that money is in metro Phoenix. The rest of the state will fight over the scraps."

Reached at his office at New York University, Ross sounded embarrassed by his book's subtitle as he tried to defend it. He accused New Times of a fixation on the subtitle. But more exaggerations that attempt to back up the book's theme can be found in its pages.

"Phoenix is the most environmentally challenged of American cities," Ross wrote on page 50.

What about New Orleans, which sits below sea level in Hurricane Alley?

The statistics behind the first footnote in the introductory chapter are misleading, setting a bad precedent for the rest of the tome. Ross states that Arizona "added fossil fuels faster than any other state" since 1990. Though this may be true, it's only a function of the increased population. In fact, Arizona's per-capita fossil-fuel emissions were average among states before and after the latest population boom.

Ross argues that Mexican illegal immigration largely is the fault of climate change (the theory being that Mexicans are fleeing arid conditions in their country) and that Arizona's "ill treatment" of undocumented residents "was the first skirmish in the climate wars of the future."

It's an interesting hypothesis, but Ross' claim that the divisiveness of immigration enforcement creates metro Phoenix's greatest sustainability challenge fails to appreciate that multitudes of Hispanics, documented or not, move to the Valley. They find jobs and settle here, and now make up about 30 percent of the state's population. The growth of Hispanics in all but two counties, Pinal and Gila, has outpaced average growth for the past 20 years.

Their influx and presence makes this place more sustainable, not less — despite the bitter feelings of some current residents — or the pessimism of those like Ross.

One of the most esteemed doomsday prophets is Jonathan Overpeck, a scientist who writers such as deBuys and Ross call the state's leading climatologist. The label may be accurate, but Overpeck also is a climate-change alarmist.

Other Arizona climatologists don't necessarily share his views or interpretation of climate-related data.

Nancy Selover, Arizona's official state climatologist, says she doesn't believe "for a second" Overpeck's statement that Arizona is "dead" if the CAP canal stops flowing for one year.

Overpeck "overstepped his bounds by saying that," she says.

Though climate studies do reveal a likelihood of reduced river flows, and it's possible that the Central Arizona Project may someday run dry for a whole year, "we can still manage," Selover says.

The situation might result in a reduction of water for farms, and maybe crackdowns on watering lawns or washing cars in Phoenix, but never a dead state, Selover says. She adds that even if the CAP went dry for that year, this doesn't mean it would be dry the next year, too.

Overpeck didn't respond to a request to be interviewed for this article.

Selover, who's lived in Arizona since 1973, also takes issue with the November 2012 Republic story by Michael Clancy. The line about "summer" lasting from April to January in the future isn't attributed, and Selover's quoted immediately after it.

She tells New Times that she didn't say anything about a nine-month summer, nor would she have, because she doesn't think climate change will have such a result on the state.

The longtime resident gives good odds to Phoenix's future because it has "economic engines" that provide jobs.

Professor Chuck Redman, founding director of ASU's School of Sustainability, agrees with Selover that Phoenix's future will benefit because it's "relatively new" and is like a blank slate for sustainability ideas.

One shining example of this, he says, is the sustainability school. Redman credits ASU President Michael Crow with having the vision to confront the expected problems of climate change by launching the school, known by its abbreviation SOS. Though the school's mission is to help the whole world, "probably the majority of what we do is Phoenix-oriented," Redman says.

It only makes sense that ASU should help sustain Phoenix, of course. Since 2002, when Crow became president, the university has grown tremendously in student population, buildings, and satellite campuses. The campuses' square footage has grown by 26 percent since 2007. All of Crow's work will be in vain if fears of unsustainability become reality by the time the current students are grandparents.

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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.

.

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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