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Arizona Daily Sun Coconino Voices: Yes, indeed, climate change hits close to home

Posted on October 21, 2021 • Category: Op-EdBy Sybil Francis, President & CEO, Center for the Future of Arizona

Arizona Daily Sun


Flagstaff residents have as much first-hand experience with the effects of climate change as anyone in Arizona.

You feel it when just the threat of fire closes national forests, keeping visitors and their dollars away.

You see it when bigger, hotter fires denude mountainsides, robbing them of the ability to absorb rainfall. Monsoon rains turn into floods that overrun the sandbags perpetually in place in the Sunnyside community.

You pay the price when a smaller snowpack reduces water supplies and chips away at the city’s identity as a winter wonderland. Researchers say the Southwest is suffering its worst megadrought in five centuries.

So it’s no wonder that the City Council takes the threat of climate change seriously, approving an ambitious plan to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 44% by 2030.

Action like this doesn’t come without a lot of debate as well as pushback, so it may cheer supporters of the Carbon Neutrality Plan to know that their approach has ample support from people across the state. The Gallup Arizona Survey in partnership with the Center for the Future of Arizona found that three of every four Arizonans ranked the transition to clean energy as important, and support grew from there:

  • 80% want improved air quality.
  • 84% want actions to reduce the heat island effect.
  • 85% favor increased spending and measures to prevent forest fires.
  • 86% said it’s important to protect rural water supplies.

The recognition that Arizona must be part of the solution is spreading across the state.

Arizona Public Service committed to providing 65% carbon-free energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The Tucson City Council, like Flagstaff’s, declared a climate emergency and enacted a plan to eliminate its carbon footprint.

This momentum toward a cleaner energy future is good for public health and safety, as underlined in a 2018 document listing Flagstaff’s vulnerabilities to climate change. It listed poor air quality caused by larger wildfires and more heat-related deaths as among the threats the city faces.

Wildfires, drought, and extreme heat place Arizona on the front lines of climate change. Inaction will cost our state significantly.

Moving toward cleaner energy is good for the environment, as northern Arizona is at risk of losing its ponderosa forests if nothing changes. And it’s good for the economy. Flagstaff is among the most visited cities in the United States, yet the natural attractions that bring tourism dollars to the area are the most vulnerable to a changing climate. Burnt forests and thin snowpacks translate into a loss of jobs.

What’s more, clean energy is a growing industry. Three times as many Americans work in clean energy occupations as in fossil-fuel jobs. In Arizona in 2020, nearly 60,000 Arizonans were working in clean energy jobs, with 7% growth anticipated this year.

The numbers will only grow. For instance, Arizona is becoming a hub of electric vehicle manufacturing, which attracted UACJ Whitehall to bring hundreds of good-paying jobs to Flagstaff. Wind farms continue to take root across northern Arizona. The federal reconciliation bill, with its emphasis on developing clean energy, would support even more green jobs.

We’re on the right track. While Arizona alone can’t solve the climate crisis, we can contribute. The closing of the Navajo Generating Station and other Arizona coal plants resulted in a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2008 statewide levels. Admittedly, jobs were lost, but SRP has been conscientious about providing new opportunities, and entrepreneurs are looking to bring solar projects to the Navajo and Hopi nations. Air quality is improving and water is being saved.

Arizona will benefit tremendously from investments in climate change. Carbon neutrality plans like Flagstaff’s add to the momentum.

And we each can do our part:

  • Start at home. Do an efficiency audit to find ways to save energy. Avoid using gas-powered lawn and garden equipment. Consider installing rooftop solar panels. Telecommute, use public transportation or ride your bike when possible. Join your neighbors in planting a community garden.
  • Advocate for legislative action that supports clean energy and thus creates good jobs, drives economic development and improves the environment.
  • Reach out to your representatives in Washington — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly and Rep. Tom O’Halleran — and encourage their support of investments in clean energy.

Arizonans understand the benefits of transitioning to clean energy. Working together, we can make this part of The Arizona We Want.


Sybil Francis is president & CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings Arizonans together to create a stronger and brighter future for our state.