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US experiencing climate change now, latest National Climate Assessment shows

November 14, 2023

12 ASU faculty provide pivotal input to highly influential scientific report

The White House on Tuesday released a comprehensive scientific analysis of the impacts of global climate change in the United States in its Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5).

The report, contributed to by 12 faculty members from Arizona State University, is considered to be a highly influential scientific assessment, as well as a scientific consensus regarding climate change impacts, mitigation and adaptation strategies across the country.

The nationwide report, which looks at current and future climate impacts, shows that people across the U.S. are facing increasing climate-related risks that include warmer temperatures, heatwaves, severe drought and flooding, as well as wildfires and hurricanes that are more frequent and severe.

Additionally, underserved and overburdened communities are facing increased impacts of climate change because of persistent social and economic inequities.

The report also demonstrates that the U.S. is making progress adapting to climate change impacts — an encouraging sign amidst increasing global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Dave White

"As shown in the Fifth National Climate Assessment, the Southwest — including Arizona — is taking action on climate change,” said Dave White, director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at ASU, as well as lead author of the NCA5 chapter on the Southwest region.

“Governments, nongovernmental organizations, universities and private enterprises are responding to climate impacts with innovative solutions, increasing adaptation and resilience. Climate action offers unparalleled opportunities to improve well-being, benefit the economy and create a more just future for our state and region."  

While greenhouse gas emissions have fallen in the U.S. since peaking in 2007 and efforts to reduce emissions have increased since the last National Climate Assessment published in 2018, severe climate change impacts are still expected to rise without urgent and immediate action to further reduce emissions and accelerate both mitigation and adaptation efforts nationwide.

“The Fifth National Climate Assessment demonstrates that our choices, individually and collectively, matter immensely as they relate to climate change,” said Peter Schlosser, director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at ASU. “We will continue to experience the detrimental and life-altering effects of wildfires, drought, water scarcity, food insecurity, extreme heat and social inequities unless we act with urgency to combat climate change. What we choose to do today will determine our future.”

Climate change impacts in the Southwest

The report highlights five key areas of concern for the Southwest region, which comprises Arizona, California, Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. The Southwest is home to more than 60 million people.

"The assessment demonstrates that the impacts of climate change in the Southwest have become increasingly apparent and widespread in recent years,” White said. “Climate change is impacting the region's water resources, coast and ocean, agriculture, human health and wildfire events. The report also documents the best available science, which informs actions communities are taking to adapt." 

Water security continues to be a big concern in the region, as drought and increasing aridity threaten remaining water supplies. Climate change has reduced both groundwater and surface-water supplies both for people and nature.

New science in the report shows that higher temperatures are driving much of the change. Meanwhile, the Southwest is experiencing a rise in extreme weather events, such as atmospheric rivers and flooding.

Along the coast, marine ecosystems are experiencing the impacts of large-scale marine heatwaves and harmful algal blooms. This not only has a profound and negative effect on marine life, it also diminishes the economies and fisheries that depend on a healthy ocean. Sea level rise, caused by melting glaciers, impacts flooding, saltwater intrusion and critical infrastructure, especially in overburdened and underserved communities.

The Southwest is an important region for producing a variety of crops such as lettuce, alfalfa, chiles, pinto beans, grapes, peanuts and wheat, as well as alfalfa and cotton. However, water scarcity and drought are making it more difficult to raise food and fiber in the region. And, extreme heat is reducing crop quality and yield, and stressing both humans and animals. Adaptation strategies include the integration of Indigenous knowledge with technological innovation to help protect food security and sovereignty.

Human health and demographics are affected by environmental changes, as well. Residents in the Southwest are facing an influx of migration, the physical effects of extreme wildfires, and the impacts of extreme heat on older adults, outdoor workers and people with low income. In Arizona, the Department of Health Services created new policies for heat safety and adaptation in schools.

Finally, the Southwest is experiencing unprecedented wildfire events that are driven in part by climate change. This affects everything from housing to food production to hydropower and electricity generation.

Climate change indicators in the Southwest

“We have improved our understanding of the interconnectivity of these issues, which helps us design strategies that address risks and improve resilience across multiple areas,” White said. “Climate impacts are accelerating rapidly. Americans are experiencing increased risks from extreme events, which causes disproportionate risks to those in underserved communities.

"But we have an opportunity here. Climate action and adaptation gives us an opportunity to advance transformative climate actions that can strengthen resilience and advance equity.”

A bright spot: Mitigation and adaptation making progress nationwide

The report illustrates that the U.S. is taking action on climate change across the country. In every region, cities and states have adaptation and mitigation efforts underway.

Wind and solar energy costs have dropped 90% over the last decade, and up to 80% of new generation capacity just three years ago came from renewable sources. And low-carbon jobs are increasing, projected to offset the losses in jobs in the fossil fuel industry.

In the Southwest, the water crisis and hotter temperatures are driving urgent mitigation efforts. For example, the federal government issued mandatory cuts to Colorado River water usage in 2021.

In Arizona, the state launched the Arizona Water Innovation Initiative, a statewide project led by the ASU Global Futures Laboratory to work with industrial, municipal, agricultural, tribal and international partners to rapidly accelerate and deploy new approaches and technology for water conservation, augmentation, desalination, efficiency, infrastructure and reuse.

The use of solar power is increasing across the region, and the city of Phoenix opened the country’s first Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. 

“Since the last assessment in 2018, we can quantify that city- and state-level adaptation plans and actions have increased by 32%,” White said. “The Inflation Reduction Act is the largest investment in climate resilience in our lifetime, which shows a clear picture of the urgency of response. There are hundreds of examples of success; there is public attention and awareness due to extreme events.

"And you have once-in-a-generation funding and government attention to the issue. The stars are as aligned as they have ever been regarding having hope and taking action on climate change.” 

About the report

The Fifth National Climate Assessment includes 32 chapters that cover crucial national-level topics such as water, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, ecosystems, health and more. The report was written by a team of 500 federal and non-federal authors, and it includes input and editing from 260 technical experts from every state in the nation. 

The assessment, which is produced approximately every four years, is mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and investigates current and future risks presented by climate change. Ten regions are covered in the assessment: the Southwest, Northeast, Southeast, U.S. Caribbean, Midwest, Northern Great Plains, Southern Great Plains, Alaska, Hawaii and U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands. The report is based on published scientific literature and is a consensus-based evaluation and synthesis, and the assessment is relevant to current and future policy, but it does not recommend any specific policy changes.

“The new climate assessment highlights the strong interconnectedness of climate with other parts of the Earth system,” Schlosser said. “The research shows the interconnectedness between food, water, energy and heat mitigation, among others, particularly in the Southwest. Adaptation in one area frequently has positive impacts on others. This is further motivation to increase our efforts to implement climate solutions at a rapid pace.”

ASU faculty provide key work on assessment 

White, the lead author of the Southwest region, is one of 12 contributors from ASU. All are affiliated with the Global Futures Laboratory. The group spans multiple units and served in a variety of roles for the report including as reviewers, chapter authors, regional authors and technical contributors.

For the national report, contributors include:

  • Margaret Garcia, Chapter 2: "Climate Trends." Garcia is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Abigail York, Chapter 8: "Ecosystems, Ecosystem Services, and Biodiversity." York is a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

  • David Hondula, Chapter 12: "Built Environment, Urban Systems, and Cities." Hondula is an associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning in The College.

  • Sarah Meerow, Chapter 12: "Built Environment, Urban Systems, and Cities." Meerow is an associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

  • Mikhail Chester, Chapter 13: "Transportation." Chester is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

  • Melanie Gall, Chapter 15: "Human Health." Gall is an assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs.

For the regional reports, contributors include:

  • Dave White, lead author, Chapter 28: "Southwest."

  • Jennifer Vanos, Chapter 28: "Southwest." Vanos is an associate professor in the School of Sustainability, part of the Global Futures Laboratory.

  • Otakuye Conroy-Ben, Chapter 25: "Northern Great Plains." Conroy-Ben is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Build Environment.

  • Victoria Keener, Chapter 30: "Hawaii and US-Affiliated Pacific Islands." Keener is a research professor with the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

  • Zena Grecni, Chapter 30: "Hawaii and US-Affiliated Pacific Islands." Grecni is a researcher with the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation.

  • Laura Brewington, Chapter 30: "Hawaii and US-Affiliated Pacific Islands." Brewington is a research professor with the Global Institute for Sustainability and Innovation.

What’s next?

Following the report’s release, there will be a series of webinars to inform the public, legislators, nonprofit organizations and other stakeholders. Each virtual event will feature a presentation about the findings from the chapter authors and will allow time for Q&A. The webinars will take place through mid-March 2024.

Top image: "Spruce Smoke" by artist Ree Nancarrow (2012, quilted fiber).

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Sustainability leadership degree complements Air Force veteran's career path

November 14, 2023

Arizona State University student Carmia B. Frazier discovered an interest in the United States Air Force at the young age of 7. She recalls spotting three men wearing fatigues while having lunch on a church trip to North Carolina. Glancing through a crowd of otherwise average diners, these three soldiers stood out to her.

“Seeing someone in uniform for the first time captivated me,” said Frazier, who is currently pursuing an online Master of Sustainability Leadership from the College of Global Futures. “My mom encouraged me to ask them what their jobs were. When I asked, they told me they were in the Air Force.”  Frazier smiling, wearing a white button up shirt. The background is solid ASU gold. Carmia B. Frazier Download Full Image

After their short conversation, they suggested that Frazier think about joining the Air Force once she's grown up. 

In high school, her path once again crossed with the Air Force. Her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test scores impressed Staff Sergeant Brian Miller, an Air Force recruiter, who encouraged her to enlist. Frazier and her family initially thought she would follow a more traditional path and pursue a degree right after finishing high school, but Frazier was confident in her decision to join the military.

“My parents had hopes of me going to college, and I believed I would as well, but the thought of doing so never lit a fire inside quite like meeting those Airmen in the restaurant did, or the thought of working with Staff Sergeant Miller did.” 

Looking back, Frazier was able to pinpoint what drew her to enlist.

“I didn’t have an explanation of my ‘why’ until I matured in my career, but now I can say with conviction that I have a heart of service and I was born to serve,” she said. “I have a passion for helping others, and am dedicated to making a positive difference in the world and the lives of others.”

She credits the leaders she worked with and peers she collaborated with, as well as the lessons learned in the Air Force for helping her develop skills that would last a lifetime — resilience, adaptability and a strong work ethic. Between her initial enlistment and retirement from service, she rose through the ranks and achieved the title of chief master sergeant. 

“As I rose in rank and moved from one assignment to another, I remained true to my values and authenticity. Whenever I would show up to an assignment and hear, ‘you have some big shoes to fill,’ I would reply, ‘I don’t fill shoes. I bring my own.”

During her time as an active-duty officer, Frazier began working as an equal opportunity professional and later, as her roles evolved, as a diversity, equity and inclusion professional. 

Since leaving the military, she has been able to continue her work in this field and decided a Master of Sustainability Leadership, one of 11 graduate degree options offered through the College of Global FuturesSchool of Sustainability, was the best degree to not only supplement her existing experience, but to help her become the best version of herself.

“Being an Air Force veteran, I practice leadership by example, advocacy for justice, amplification of the underserved and active engagement in creating change,” she said. “My passion for service fuels my commitment to making a difference in the world, and both DEI and sustainability are essential to creating a more just and sustainable future for all.”

ASU was always her top choice — the university’s commitment to sustainability, opportunities, research initiatives and the Pat Tillman Veterans Center all jumped out at her and helped her feel that ASU was a good fit. 

“From my initial communication with ASU staff to inquire about the program, I felt welcome and knew I was making the right choice to become a Sun Devil,” she said. “I am thankful that ASU is part of my journey. The knowledge, support and experience I have gained here is immeasurable.”

Aside from shaping her career trajectory and professional experiences, Frazier said that serving in the U.S. Air Force shaped the way she experienced the world. She traveled extensively and had the opportunity to meet a diverse array of people and experience many different cultures. Through these experiences, she was struck by the resilience, determination and courage that she witnessed in many parts of the world.

“My military experience made me more compassionate and understanding. It gave me a greater appreciation for the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States — freedoms that I was proud to defend.”

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures