Arizona can be a climate leader

Climate change has arguably never been discussed more on the national level. President Biden, from the beginning of his bid for the presidency, made climate change the center of many of his policy proposals, and since his inauguration many of his appointments are climate-minded individuals. Even though his climate strategy thus far has been mandate- and government-heavy, it’s encouraging for climate activists to see the dialogue unfold.

Environmental issues, like the effects of climate change, are especially important here in Arizona because we’ve seen a rise in events like forest fires and droughts, which are exacerbated by climate change. In fact, the Washington Post recently reported that even the iconic saguaro cactus – the blooms are Arizona’s state flower – is threatened by climate change.

While Arizona is far from a leader in annual carbon emissions compared to other states, there is still room in the state to promote clean energy production and other climate mitigation events. These challenges require that all Arizonans come to the table to talk solutions, regardless of partisanship or age.

As the president of an environmental organization, I understand the importance of building coalitions to get results. With this in mind, I spent a few days with our Arizona-based activists to experience the state, talk about local challenges, and further empower our activists to take action ahead of Earth Day. Our Arizona activists started the Sustain 48 campaign, an advocacy initiative to promote clean air, water, and energy in the state of Arizona. Already the activists are working to better their community with trash clean-ups and events to discuss local environmental issues.

Thanks to these activists and the efforts of many more elected officials and advocacy groups, Arizona is an emerging climate leader in the United States. In 2019, Arizona generated approximately 12% of its electricity from renewable sources, which puts the state right in the middle at number 25 in the country. This obviously leaves room for improvement, but Arizona’s prioritization of clean energy and even natural climate solutions in recent years shouldn’t go unnoticed. Continuing to prioritize energy sources like the Palo Verde nuclear plant will be critical to increasing Arizona’s clean energy production while boosting the economy. 

Other states should also take note of the bipartisan consensus around the need for climate action in Arizona. Republican Governor Doug Ducey’s forest management prioritization and important messaging on environmental prosperity with economic growth is critically important to real action on the issue. 

We often focus nearly exclusively on our federal government when we’re advocating for climate change action. We can’t lose sight of how important localized advocacy is, though, as environmental activists. While Biden works on the issue at the national level, we should be putting in work as well right in our communities. Nearly every environmental issue is local. Sure, no matter where in the nation one lives, catastrophic wildfires are alarming, but Arizonans experience them right in their backyards.

Moving forward, we must continue to build coalitions in our communities for meaningful environmental action. Local politics may not always make headlines, but it remains one of the most important avenues for change. Here in Arizona, it is possible to address climate change and sustain our beautiful 48th state.

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). He can be found on Twitter at @BenjiBacker.

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