In Discussing Colorado River Drought Plan, Ducey Won't Say 'Climate Change'

Governor Doug Ducey shies away from uttering the words "climate change" when discussing Arizona's drought plan.
Governor Doug Ducey shies away from uttering the words "climate change" when discussing Arizona's drought plan. Gage Skidmore via Flickr
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term "climate change" in order to garner political support for the state's Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an interview with a Pima Community College newspaper.

In that interview, he also avoided making any connection between climate change and the "drier future" (his preferred phrase) that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the established links between the two.

The governor's statement on Friday fits a pattern. While urging lawmakers to approve the drought plan, Ducey has consistently avoided the words "climate change" throughout his remarks on the subject.

During Ducey's visit to Pima Community College, Aztec Press reporter Joseph Giddens asked the Republican governor why he used the phrase "drier future" instead of "climate change."

Ducey offered a tautology. "We've been specifically talking about water, so when you have less water, what that means is that it will be drier," he said.

He then seemed to admit that using the term "climate change" would have undermined public and political support in Arizona for the Drought Contingency Plan. The multistate plan is supposed to prevent the Colorado River from dipping into a catastrophic shortage.

"It's also a way for us to bring the public along, in terms of what we needed with the Drought Contingency Plan," Ducey told Giddens, referring to his choice of the term "drier future."

"But, specifically, why not climate change?" Giddens pressed.

“Because we’re trying to get something passed at the Legislature," Ducey said, a slight smile breaking across his face. Because "we’re actually taking more water from the Colorado River than Mother Nature puts back, that means it will be drier," he continued.

Although human consumption and the historical over-allocation of the Colorado River are critical drivers in the river's looming shortage, the amount of water that "Mother Nature puts back" is decreasing as well, due to climate change. The scientific consensus is that rising temperatures due to climate change are exacerbating an ongoing drought on the river by decreasing the snowpack that feeds it.

Two weeks ago, Ducey similarly skirted uttering the phrase "climate change." In January, just after he had signed legislation, a reporter asked Ducey how talk of climate change would affect future water negotiations.

He responded that "it" was certainly important to policymakers, and that he was hoping for wet winters because "we are seeing changing weather patterns."

In previous months, as Ducey took to Twitter, opinion pages, and the floor of the Legislature to try to drum up support for the Drought Contingency Plan, he seemed to show an allergy to the phrase "climate change."

In none of those cases did he use the two C words. Instead, he talked about "transitioning to a drier future."

In an opinion piece for the Arizona Capitol Times in November, he wrote, "We must recognize that drought may be the new normal" and said that the purpose of the Drought Contingency Plan was to "transition to a drier future." In the pages of the Arizona Republic two weeks later, he again avoided the term "climate change" but used the phrase "drier future" three times.

Although Ducey implied that not using the phrase "climate change" was necessary in order to get the Drought Contingency Plan through the Legislature — it passed, and he signed it, on January 31 — he has shied away from acknowledging the impacts of climate change in other cases, too.

Last August, he told local NPR affiliate KJZZ that the link between more extreme wildfires and climate change was "a complete unknown." Scientists have found otherwise.

And during his campaign for re-election last fall, when asked by the Republic about his views on climate change, Ducey hedged. He stopped short of acknowledging that human activity is driving the increase in average global temperatures or that, as a result, any responsibility to address the problem might lie with humans, too.

"There's no doubt the climate is changing," he responded. "There's no doubt that we're part of what goes on in the ecosystem and the environment."

Ducey's office did not respond Friday to a request for comment about the governor's avoidance of the term "climate change."
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Elizabeth Whitman was a staff writer for Phoenix New Times from March 2019 to April 2020.