In Arizona, the people move ahead of the politicians

 

Arizona, once dubbed “the meth lab of democracy” by political comedian Jon Stewart, continues its sad ways.

To wit, when unveiling his first “no-new-taxes” budget, ex-ice-cream salesman and new Republican Gov. Doug Ducey tried to sneak through a provision that would have taken money away from veterans’ programs for the living in order to pay for cutting the grass at veterans’ cemeteries. This is not a joke.

The Republican Party’s grip on Arizona seems as strong as ever, though opposition in the party to Ducey’s peculiar approach to lawn care meant that the provision was dropped.

So it’s no surprise that in the face of rising temperatures and falling reservoir levels across the West, Arizona’s elected Republicans have little useful to say about climate change.  Sen. John McCain used to talk about it seriously, but now he mocks President Obama’s assertion that climate change is a major global security threat. The Pentagon, however, agrees with Obama, calling climate change a “threat multiplier.”

The science also clearly indicates that McCain’s home state is part of a rapidly heating region, threatening more drought, more dust, less water and a drop in the flows of the vitally important Colorado River. Still, it was surprising when Jeff Flake, Arizona’s junior senator, broke with his colleagues recently to vote in the Senate for a measure acknowledging that humans were causing climate change.  That’s a bright spot for a change.

Not that Gov. Ducey is paying attention to that or to science in general. Instead, he’s toeing the standard climate-change skepticism line, while the latest legislative session – dominated by Republicans – saw several anti-environmental resolutions passed, including a brave stand against cutting power-plant emissions.  Tilting at windmills, anyone?

But in a state that will never be mistaken for Vermont, ordinary residents are now several steps ahead of the climate Neanderthals. A nonpartisan scientific poll (which strengthened the validity of its findings by using the kind of large sample size usually reserved for national surveys) uncovered strong bipartisan acceptance in Arizona of human-forced climate change. What’s even more telling, most respondents wanted government action, even though the poll specifically warned them that it would cost them money. 

Conducted by the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment and Stanford University, the survey found:

* Nearly three-quarters of Arizonans want government action to regulate business’ greenhouse gases.

* 55 percent agreed that the government should mandate that power plants cut such emissions.

* 78 percent want federal tax breaks for renewable energies.  (Arizonans are well aware that we’re awash in sunshine.)

* The same percentage believes that human activity is at least partially the cause of climate change.

* Important groups, such as Hispanics, the young and women, are more concerned about climate change than the general population.

What this suggests is that even in the reddest states –politically red as well as, you know, sunburned – voters will support government regulations to curb carbon emissions, even if it costs money.

The first question to ask is when most of the Republican Party will notice this.  The second question is when voters will punish elected Republicans for not doing so. The final question is whether all this comes too late. 

Pope Francis has spoken against climate change, and climate talks loom later this year in Paris.  If history is a guide, none of this will produce meaningful action on global reductions of greenhouse gases.  The time is coming when citizens, leaders, politicians, lobbyists, policymakers and scientists will have to do more than confront emissions reductions; they’ll have to consider employing emergency technologies to rapidly cool the planet’s overall temperature. 

One such technology, called geo-engineering, could involve spraying tons of sulfur aerosols into the stratosphere in order to reflect heat back into space.  Scary stuff. Yet doing so over the Arctic might save summer ice there in short order. But geo-engineering the planet means we’re in dire straits indeed.

The Arizona survey underscores that it’s long past time for Republican moderates to seize back their party from the sound-bite robots who repeat, “I am not a scientist” whenever the cameras come on. And when Arizona faces California-style decisions about cutting water use in the near future, it might be good for politicians to put those decisions in the context that the rest of the state already understands: Climate change is real, human beings are culpable, and we need to lessen its impacts.  Failing to do that could mean warmer days in November and big changes at the ballot box.

Christopher Cokinos is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the column service of High Country News. He is affiliated with, but does not speak for, the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. He lives in Tucson. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Western Watersheds Project seeks a Tenth Circuit Staff Attorney to bring litigation in the interests of protecting and restoring western watersheds and wildlife, particularly focused...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]