Phoenix could feel more like Baghdad by 2050, a new climate study says
PHOENIX - At first glance, Phoenix shares little in common with Baghdad, the capital and largest city of Iraq. But while they may differ on language and culture, there's at least one similarity people in both cities endure: dry, intense heat on a planet that's only getting hotter.
And in 30 more years, Phoenix might feel more like the desert cities in Iraq, where temperatures can climb to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit during summer heat waves.
A new study from ETH Zürich analyzed how climate change is impacting major cities around the world. The study used climate model projections to pair 520 cities and their climate forecast for 2050 with another city's current climate.
By 2050, scientists say, Salt Lake City would resemble Las Vegas, and Las Vegas would resemble Phoenix. On the West Coast, San Diego could feel a lot more like another coastal city more than 6,000 miles away: Tripoli, Libya.
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Human activities, from burning fossil fuels to deforestation, are already heating up the planet, causing warmer summers and winters. In the not-so-distant future, cities in the northern hemisphere will have climates more like cities 620 miles to their south today, the study's senior author, Tom Crowther, told National Geographic.
How far off from Baghdad is Phoenix right now? Average highs from May to September in Baghdad range from 98 to 112 degrees, peaking in July, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Baghdad receives virtually no rainfall in the summer.
Average highs in the same period in Phoenix range from 94 to 106 degrees.
To help people visualize the impact of climate change within their lifetime, the research team created an online map of current versus future cities. The map shows the biggest projected temperature spikes in northern latitudes.
Researchers hope their work will help city planners better prepare for the future. As desert regions from the U.S. Southwest to the Middle East become hotter and drier, scientists say there will be severe consequences that will test the regions' ability to provide food, water and cooling.
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According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment published in November, climate change is diminishing water supplies in the Southwest, posing a major risk for agriculture in a region that produces significant amounts of the country’s food supply.
Rising temperatures also affect residents in disproportionate ways. Last year, 182 peopled died of heat-associated deaths in metro Phoenix, a record high.
One of them was Stephanie Pullman, a 72-year-old woman in Sun City West. She fell $52 short on her electricity bill, and Arizona Public Service Co. cut off her power on a 107-degree day.
People who are most vulnerable to extreme heat include those who are elderly, homeless, have low incomes or have health issues, said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon chapter of Sierra Club.
“If your income is low, it’s harder to pay for cooling,” Bahr said. “And with climate change, hotter days, those costs are going to go up.”
People with lower incomes also tend to live in housing that’s less energy efficient, with means they have to spend more money to cool their home, she added.
Bahr said she's also concerned that there’s been more public emphasis on heat relief stations, but heat deaths are rising.
“I think what’s needed is a real concerted effort,” Bahr said. “That’s the issue with plans. Plans without funding, without implementation, we just don’t get there.”
With the climate crisis already occurring, Phoenix needs a greater focus on heat relief, Bahr said.
“I also think a lot of the time, the focus has been on the really big things," she said. "Hurricanes. Big fires. Those types of things. It’s really how climate change is affecting our lives every day. A lot of times we don’t notice it, but it is.”
Follow Priscilla Totiyanpungprasert on Twitter: @PriscillaTotiya.