A near-perfect confluence of events makes the desert Southwest one of the nation’s most vulnerable areas to climate change, the scientist said.

High growth and prolonged drought have put the region, especially Arizona, “in the bullseye in the U.S.,” University of Arizona scientist Jonathan Overpeck, a climate change expert, told a gathering of his peers, regulators, activists and lawyers last week at the Westward Look Resort.

All attended a conference, “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Desert Southwest: Impacts and Opportunities,” sponsored by the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law and various university-based climate change and environmental groups.

“There are opportunities,” Overpeck suggested, even after he painted a relatively dire view of the changing climate of the Southwest.

Gripped in a multi-decade drought, the region has been racked with hotter summers over the years and hardly enough rain to mute the prolonged heat’s clay-cracking effects.

Still, in seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — especially those generated by fossil fuels — the Southwest can lead the way in the U.S. when it comes to alternative energy production, Overpeck said.

Think solar, the scientist added. “We have the most photons. We have the most cloud-free days.”

But, even increased solar production has its downsides, according to UA law professor Robert Glennon, a widely published water-use expert.

“To produce energy takes a lot of water,” Glennon said. “It also takes a lot of energy to make water.”

The paradoxical twist only serves to highlight the dangers of not conserving water as we look for ways to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels, the professor said.

While the two-day conference last Thursday and Friday served to contrast our efforts to mitigate climate change and the cost of efforts to adapt to it, the gathering also marked the unveiling of a new Internet-based resource for the ongoing environmental battle.

University of Arizona researchers laid out www.southwestclimatechange.org, the online presence for the Southwest Climate Change Network, a “virtual community for scientists, decision makers and the public to share information on climate change and collaborate on solutions,” according a primer distributed at the conference.

Work on the new Web site, which tracks current climate change research, began in earnest nearly two years ago when talk of the environmental shift took on a fevered intensity, said Joe Abraham, a key architect of the site.

“Most of that kind of research has been locked up in scientific journals,” Abraham said.

By promoting “social-networking,” or the free, online exchange of information, the UA’s climate change site aims to bridge the gaps between scientists and the public, he added.

“A lot of teachers, we hope, would be interested in this site,” Abraham said.

Hopefully, so will scores of other people with a specific interest in how global warming has affected the Southwest, he said.

“Global warming is, by now, unequivocal,” Overpeck said last week.

How future generations of scientists and policy-makers will respond to it, however, remains in flux, he said.

Last week’s conference, which served mainly to start the discussion between those two groups, might go a long way in spurring greater collaboration on solutions to the problem, organizers said.

Giffords: AZ can lead in solar energy

Arizona has a choice when it comes to adapting to climate change and searching for ways to limit greenhouse gases, according to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“The question in Arizona is whether we’re going to embrace this transition,” the Tucson Democrat told a Northwest gathering of scientists and policy makers last week.

The congresswoman spoke at the conclusion of a conference held by the University of Arizona that focused on adapting to climate change in the Southwest.

She referred to efforts, some already proposed by President Barack Obama, to drastically limit carbon-producing energy production and consumption in the U.S.

Criticizing Congress’ environmental regulatory efforts, Giffords suggested that new laws passed this year would have the effect of spawning new energy industries, especially solar power creation.

In that effort to harness the sun’s energy — a “God-given resource” — Arizona could prove a leader, she told the crowd last Friday.

Giffords challenged the group to come up with new ways to solve the seemingly insurmountable problems presented by a changing climate.

In that great task, she promised, scientists would find a “commitment to addressing climate change on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue (in Washington).”

“The devil will be in the details,” Giffords said. “Fortunes will be made and lost as a result of this legislation.”


The University of Arizona’s Southwest Climate Change Network aims to connect an online community of scientists, policy makers and citizens to battle global warming.

ONLINE: www.southwestclimatechange.org

DETAILS: The site contains collections of articles on climate change, potential solutions to mitigate it or adapt to it, and ways for interested parties to connect with each other, called “social-networking.”

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