Will the Inevitable Heat Death of Phoenix Arrive in the Next 100 Years?

Some experts believe Arizona's largest city is creeping toward a state of unlivability

Will the Inevitable Heat Death of Phoenix Arrive in the Next 100 Years?
Ian Dziuk

According to a new report by Salon, Phoenix — the most populous city in the State of Arizona — may be uninhabitable in the not-so-distant future.

“The Southwest is facing a reckoning: decades of human development, coupled with rising global temperatures as a result of carbon emissions, means that many major cities in the Southwest may become uninhabitable for humans this century,” Matthew Rozsa writes.

This comes as a result of the Heat Island Effect, which is — according to the Environmental Protection Agency — when the heat from the sun is absorbed and re-emitted by structures and infrastructure, as opposed to the natural landscape. Think asphalt instead of greenery, buildings instead of trees, etc. If you live in an urban area, then you are keenly aware of the way that heat tends to refract and intensify in heavily developed areas.

It’s hardly a phenomenon specific to Phoenix (it’s prevalent in all concrete-heavy, densely populated metropolitan areas), given Phoenix’s location — i.e., the middle of a desert — it’s especially foreboding there.

“In Phoenix specifically, the negative aspects of the Heat Island Effect will also be exacerbated by ongoing infrastructure projects that exacerbate resource scarcity issues,” Rozsa writes. “Water infrastructure in Arizona is already tenuous, as human habitation in both Phoenix and Tucson is dependent on the Central Arizona River Project, a massive infrastructure project that diverts water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona.”

“There will come a day when the temperature won’t fall below 100 degrees in Phoenix during the nighttime,” Dr. Andrew Ross, NYU professor and author of Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, told Salon. And unfortunately, that day may arrive this century.

Between 2004-2018, there were almost 10,000 heat-related deaths reported across US — an approximate 700 a year. In 2018, there were 250 heat-associated deaths in Arizona alone, accounting for 36% of all heat-related deaths in the country. Those are sobering statistics — even before acknowledging that August 2020, two years later, would become the hottest month ever recorded in the state’s history.


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