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Posted by on Mar 16, 2013 in Energy, Environment, Society | 5 comments

If cities were stocks, you’d want to short Phoenix

6445184545_8688edb0d1_zOne of the centers of conservative ideology is Arizona’s valley of the sun, Phoenix.  Climate Change denial is the norm in the Phoenix are but William deBuys explains that it could also become one of the first Climate Change ghost towns.

Of course, it’s an easy city to pick on. The nation’s 13th largest metropolitan area (nudging out Detroit) crams 4.3 million people into a low bowl in a hot desert, where horrific heat waves and windstorms visit it regularly. It snuggles next to the nation’s largest nuclear plant and, having exhausted local sources, it depends on an improbable infrastructure to suck water from the distant (and dwindling) Colorado River.

It was always hot there but it’s getting hotter.  Water was always in short supply.  Phoenix exhausted its supply of fossil water 20 years ago drawing the water table down 400 feet in a few decades.  At that point it became necessary to import water from the Colorado river.

The CAP came on line in the early 1990s and today is the engine of Arizona’s growth. Unfortunately, in order to win authorization and funding to build it, state officials had to make a bargain with the devil, which in this case turned out to be California. Arizona’s delegation in the House of Representatives was tiny, California’s was huge, and its representatives jealously protected their longstanding stranglehold on the Colorado River. The concession California forced on Arizona was simple: it had to agree that its CAP water rights would take second place to California’s claims.
This means one thing: once the inevitable day comes when there isn’t enough water to go around, the CAP will absorb the shortage down to the last drop before California even begins to turn off its faucets.

So in the not too distant future faucets in Phoenix may go dry.

And then of course there is the heat.

It goes without saying that Phoenix’s desert setting is hot by nature, but we’ve made it hotter. The city is a masonry world, with asphalt and concrete everywhere. The hard, heavy materials of its buildings and roads absorb heat efficiently and give it back more slowly than the naked land. In a sense, the whole city is really a thermal battery, soaking up energy by day and releasing it at night. The result is an “urban heat island,” which, in turn, prevents the cool of the desert night from providing much relief.
Sixty years ago, when Phoenix was just embarking on its career of manic growth, nighttime lows never crept above 90°F. Today such temperatures are a commonplace, and the vigil has begun for the first night that doesn’t dip below 100°F. Studies indicate that Phoenix’s urban-heat-island effect may boost nighttime temperatures by as much as 10°F. It’s as though the city has doubled down on climate change, finding a way to magnify its most unwanted effects even before it hits the rest of us full blast.

For much of the year air conditioning is required 24/7.  That takes power.  Excessive heat makes it more likely  that power systems will fail.  Power outages are not uncommon and the hotter it gets the more common the outages will become.  An extended outage during the summer would result in suffering and death.  The hydroelectric dams of course require water but the coal and nuclear plants also require vast amounts of water.

XFDOvAnd then there are the dust storms that sand blast everything in their path.

A haboob is a dust/sand/windstorm, usually caused by the collapse of a thunderstorm cell. The plunging air hits the ground and roils outward, picking up debris across the open desert. As the Arabic name suggests, such storms are native to arid regions, but — although Phoenix is no stranger to storm-driven dust — the term haboob has only lately entered the local lexicon. It seems to have been imported to describe a new class of storms, spectacular in their vehemence, which bring visibility to zero and life to a standstill. They sandblast cars, close the airport, and occasionally cause the lights — and AC — to go out. Not to worry, say the two major utilities serving the Phoenix metroplex, Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project. And the outages have indeed been brief. So far.

Ghost Town

When one day the U-Haul vans all point away from town and the people of the Valley of the Sun 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.

Cross posted at Middle Earth Journal

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Copyright 2013 The Moderate Voice
  • zephyr

    I lived in Phoenix for one summer back in 71. As a born and raised Michigan boy I never did get used to the heat. I still remember walking off the jet onto the runway and feeling like I’d walked into an oven. I was also treated to a haboob while I was there. The sky turned orange and brown and everyone battened down the hatches. Dust managed to find a way in anyway. As temps continue to climb, more and more power is required, and water grows more scarce. I don’t see how they will continue to sustain livability. It seems like solar power would be one of the obvious solutions, but what about H20? As for CA, they have their own water problems.

  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    The Rockies, where I live, has been selling water to Ariz and Calif from the mighty Colorado River. We hear this is going to cease, regardless of the income to CO. We are in a high country desert too, and taxpayers and farmers and snow tourisms and etc here dont want to keep giving away precious resource so those who built in utter dry conditions can have lawns. Here, as there, we’ve been in the midst of returning to the climate habitat we built in instead of trying to import the woodlands and lake lands to the desert. It was some sort of mad vision from long ago that is UNsustainable now. We’re in near our 10th year of draught out here in the West. No joke.

  • Dr E
    I suspect the valley of the sun was unsustainable even without climate change. While Intel is rapidly expanding it’s presence here in Oregon rumor has it they are preparing to close their plant in Chandler.

  • cjjack

    I lived in Phoenix for one summer back in 71. As a born and raised Michigan boy I never did get used to the heat.

    I’m a Michigander as well, but I live in the Phoenix area now. To say that a lot has changed since you lived here is an understatement. There’s an old joke that goes something like “I used to live in North Scottsdale, now I live in South Scottsdale, but I haven’t moved!”

    You really do get acclimated to the heat after awhile. I like to say that anything under 110 isn’t really hot…just warm. But the water is a serious issue.

    People lived in this valley for centuries without air conditioning. Not without water.

  • zephyr

    The best thing about living there in 71 was going out to South Mountain and climbing around. I suppose that’s changed along with everything else.

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