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Local Opinion: We need climate action as another hot summer arrives

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Arizonans and people across much of the Southwestern United States are bracing for another summer of crippling heat. This extreme weather is compounded by the 27th year of a long-term drought, water shortages, and devastating wildfires, perpetuating an enduring public health crisis borne out of climate change.

As a pediatrician, Master of Public Health, environmental advocate, and board member of the Arizona chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, it is a crisis that has become familiar to me.

Every second that passes without climate action is estimated to cost at least $4,700, based on current trends. In Arizona, the cost of inaction is real and climbing. In 2021, our state experienced 351 severe weather events and $100 million in property damages from extreme weather events that resulted in 87 deaths and injuries. Heat waves are the deadliest type of weather emergency in the nation, and last year, Arizona suffered 29 heat days alone.

But unlike other crises, the solutions to the climate crisis are readily available, well-known, and one vote away from a long-term solution.

As I write, $555 billion worth of proposed climate, justice, jobs, and clean energy investments are languishing in the U.S. Senate. If passed, they would not only create good-paying jobs and accelerate the transition to clean, safe, renewable energy, but protect Arizonans and all Americans from the worsening health effects of climate change and fossil fuel production and use.

The proposed investments in renewable energy deployment, electric vehicles, and building electrification would be a boon for a state that ranks fifth in solar-powered electricity generation and bears some of the gravest consequences of climate change. In fact, with its last coal mine shuttering in 2019 and the state boasting no significant natural gas extraction yet, a 100% transition to clean, safe renewables is a logical and timely conclusion for Arizona’s energy present and future.

Under President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, bold climate investments would also aid those communities that suffer disproportionately from climate change and fossil fuel usage, including communities of color and low-wealth communities. In Arizona, these communities, which include a sizable indigenous population, face a range of health consequences, including heat-related illness and death, asthma, cardiovascular failure, mental health impacts, and malnutrition, among others.

Summer power outages prompted by heat extremes and wildfires also exacerbate these health ailments. The Arizona chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility has worked for several years to help educate our community on “What to Do if the Power Goes Out,” particularly in the context of extreme heat and the risk of heat illness and deaths. Each and every one of us has to do our part to address the climate crisis. My own Tucson home, for example, is solar-powered, and my two cars are both electric.

Unfortunately, too many people in Arizona and across the nation are unable to access clean energy technologies like solar panels and electric vehicles. The U.S. Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, and Tucson’s own Mark Kelly must get bold climate and clean energy investments over the finish line to make clean energy more accessible to all families while accelerating the broader transition to a healthy 100% renewable energy-powered economy.

This summer will be another test for Arizonans’ resilience to the harmful health consequences of climate change and an energy system dependent on fossil fuels. The $555 billion in climate provisions in the Senate are not a final solution, but rather a necessary step to getting us off fossil fuels and meeting the climate goals laid out by the Biden administration.

I hope that our U.S. senators will show courage and convert these proposed investments into law. We must act now on climate before it’s too late!

Eve Shapiro, MD, MPH, is currently working part-time as a pediatrician and is serving as a board member for the Arizona chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. She lives in Tucson.

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