The Southwest Region includes California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Hawaii.
At a glance: drought, wildfire, air quality, sea level rise, ocean acidification
California—at this moment, the name evokes images of dry soils and beleaguered reservoirs. The drought in California and neighboring states currently stands out as one of the most popularized issues in nationwide media, and for good reason: California farmers produce 95% of the country’s almonds, olives, pistachios, figs, and walnuts, among other popular crops. As population size increases in California, the demand for food and access to water will place farmers, businesses, and citizens in conflict with each other and with bodies of water dedicated for wildlife protection. Changes in precipitation also have consequences for the recreational industries in Colorado that require snow for winter sports and the local communities they support.
The health effects of wildfires are a growing concern given the recent ramping up of large fires in forests, contributing to deforestation of wildlife habitats and more airborne dust that decreases air quality. These fires, in combination with stronger heat waves, increasingly cause respiratory problems, more heat-related deaths in an aging population, and shifts in the range of diseases, such as those carried by mosquitos and ticks. People living without air conditioning—often inner-city populations and low-income people and people of color—are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses than more affluent people in climate-controlled homes surrounded by shade trees. Heat stress is particularly a concern for summer months, when young children and the elderly are more likely to be susceptible to the heat. Arizona leads the country in heat-related deaths.
Flooding and sea level rise are of particular concern to California and Hawaii, where rising sea levels threaten coastal infrastructure, reservoirs, and estuaries. Higher sea levels and tides can cause saltwater intrusions into drinking water systems and agricultural soils, hindering our ability to provide food and water to coastal cities. As transportation and trade hubs are generally located near harbors and ports, flooding of these areas can severely disrupt economic networks.
The marine biodiversity of Hawaii is threatened by ocean acidification, which results in coral bleaching and increases the vulnerability of coral to disease. Coral reefs are important foundations of marine ecosystems and provide shelter for numerous fish species as well as attract tourists from around the world. Coral reefs contribute $385 million towards the Hawaiian economy in goods and services alone; their loss would have significant impacts on tourism and the health of fisheries.