More ozone alerts during the day. Hotter temperatures at night. These trends are a big reason why Maricopa County and Arizona State University are exploring new ways to work together to ensure life in the desert is sustainable.
Today, at a joint meeting between the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority Board, and Dr. Michael Crow and his colleagues at Arizona State University, the topic was ASU’s “Healthy Urban Environments Initiative.” The initiative takes a solutions-based approach to heat mitigation and air quality improvement, capitalizing on ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, its School of Sustainability and its partners around the world, to address the unique challenges facing a county that is comparable in size and scale to some countries.
“Cleaner air. Fewer heat-related deaths and illnesses. More energy innovation. These are worthy and achievable outcomes, and as the nation’s fastest-growing county, the time to act is now,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Chucri, District 2. “But Maricopa County can’t do it alone, nor can ASU. We need to maximize our impact by working together.”
Data from ASU shows, over the past 90 years, temperatures are rising faster in the urban core of the county than on the outer edges. It is most noticeable at night. Average high temperatures in Phoenix have increased 4 degrees Fahrenheit in that time, while average low temperatures have increased 17 degrees. Compare that to measurements at Casa Grande National Monument, where average high temperatures have stayed flat and average lows are up just 6 degrees.
“The county is at a critical juncture,” Dr. Crow told members of both boards. “The nighttime heat index cannot continue to rise. If you have 45 nights a year over 100 degrees, [Maricopa County] will not be the same place.”
The rising nighttime heat index was part of a larger discussion that included air quality, water availability, and renewable energy. While there’s no magic bullet, possible approaches include expansion and integration of agriculture into more neighborhoods; buildings designed to lessen nighttime heat; and even smart clothing that adapts to the changing heat index. At this point, there’s no formal agreement between Maricopa County and ASU, but today’s meeting represents an important step in the process.
“This is what government should be,” said Chucri. “All of us coming together to find solutions.”