Apocalypse No: Claims That Metro Phoenix Is Doomed Because of Climate Change Are Greatly Exaggerated

Categories: Cover Story

roger_lidman.jpg
Roger Lidman, director of the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, in front of Hohokam ruins.
Hohokam is a Pima word meaning "those who vanished."

But when comparing the old and new civilizations of this region, the fact that the Hohokam disappeared is not the most interesting thing about them. The facts about the previous Valley occupants most pertinent to the current ones are these:

They lived in the Phoenix area for more than 1,000 years. They maintained one of the largest permanent settlements in New World prehistory north of the Aztecs. They used the most sophisticated water-management techniques north of the Incas. And what drove them away wasn't a long drought.

The Hohokam survived at least three extensive New World droughts.

During one period of low rainfall that researchers call the Great Drought of 1275-1300, Native Americans fled their pueblos in what is now New Mexico and Colorado -- and some are believed to have moved to more stable Hohokam settlements in central Arizona.

The Hohokam had experience in managing, or often merely trying to manage, the abundant water supply of the Salt and Gila rivers. Their culture is thought to have evolved from indigenous residents of the region in the first few centuries of the Common Era.

Modern Phoenix is inextricably connected to the Hohokam, as Arizona schoolchildren learn. The city's founding father is John William "Jack" Swilling, a "former Confederate soldier and deserter, Union Army freighter and scout, Arizona prospector, farmer and speculator," wrote Bradford Luckingham in his 1989 book, Phoenix: The History of a Southwestern Metropolis.

Swilling was an alcoholic and drug addict who "died a pauper in a Yuma jail while awaiting trial for highway robbery," writes Luckingham. But "no one made an effort toward restoring the agricultural splendor of the Hohokam until Swilling made his appearance [in 1867]."

The Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, 4619 East Washington Street, is one of the few Hohokam sites in the Valley that doesn't lie under asphalt and houses. The ruins there were once part of a settlement that existed in the Phoenix area for more than 1,000 years.

The original township of modern Phoenix is about a mile west of Pueblo Grande, says the park's director, Roger Lidman.

Impressive, remarkable, and amazing are adjectives that Lidman uses to describe the water-management feats of the Hohokam. The canal system probably began when someone gazing at the wide Salt River thought, "What if I dig a little bit of a ditch?" Lidman says.

By the early first millennium, the hardworking natives, using wood, stone tools, basketry, and muscle, had dug hundreds of miles of canals.

The Phoenix area has an abundance of water, compared to many other regions in the American West, which made the settlement location ideal.

The Gila River runs west through southern Arizona and bumps north into the West Valley, where it meets the Salt River. The Salt, in turn, comes from the White Mountains in eastern Arizona before feeding the Gila. The Verde River flows south from Yavapai County before meeting the Salt, and the Agua Fria River flows south to meet the Gila.

Much of the area is a floodplain that's great for crops.

Productive land and multiple river sources have graced the area with more water and potential farmland than in other arid regions, including the Mohave Desert. That's why Phoenix supported a population of 20,000 to 50,000 for centuries, unlike the sites of modern cities in what are now New Mexico, Southern California, and Nevada, Lidman says.

In what is now modern Los Angeles, for example, conditions weren't right for settlements as large as the Hohokam's. Much of the water in L.A. flowed from steep grades in the mountains into the ocean, making it less capable of supporting large Native American farming communities, Lidman says.

Drought was a problem for the Hohokam, who couldn't store the Valley's water for drier years, as is done now. But even worse were floods. Too much water would blow out the head gates of the canals, requiring extensive re-digging. At the same time, the economic success of the area meant more people lived in the Valley toward the end of the Hohokam era, putting more pressure on the system because of an abundance of farms and the increased need for water-delivering canals.

Even with more people to help dig, the Hohokam civilization collapsed. In roughly 1450, long before the arrival of Spanish explorers, who named the Salt River in the late 1600s, the last Hohokam canal project stopped. They just gave up.

Nothing about the environment had changed dramatically compared to the experiences of the previous 1,000 years. It was the Hohokam who had changed. Astronomical predictions were very important to them, Lidman notes: "Maybe the people lost faith" that farming in the Valley was worth the effort.

The canals sat in disrepair for centuries before Swilling showed up and saw their potential. Within a year, pioneers had corn, barley, and wheat growing on land irrigated from the reborn waterways.

The conclusion is inescapable that the Hohokam could have stayed, if only they'd wanted to.

Arizona is littered with ghost towns from the 1800s, helping prove that when people no longer see a need for a town, it dies.

What the Hohokam teach modern Phoenicians about the future, then, is that the greatest sustainability challenge for this area isn't its environment -- it's whether there's the desire to live here.

And there's no question that desire to live in metro Phoenix still burgeons.

My Voice Nation Help
31 comments
BigBob
BigBob

The claims may be exaggerated, but that does not mean they are altogether false.  We have the data.  This really isn't that hard to see.  Turn on your evening news and notice how often we post record highs.  Then look up what the historic record highs are for any given date; they're all within the last 10 years.  "We" developed in every direction ten years ago, laying down asphalt and packing as many cookie cutter houses in as we could.  The outlying citrus farms are long gone.  "We" are still on the cookie cutter trend, and building in every direction.  Less and less space for plant life.  If we keep doing the same things, like we are, it can only get worse.       

arizonaeagletarian
arizonaeagletarian

Will people still want to live here when summer high temps routinely hit 130F? That may depend on the prospects for SOLAR energy as well as adequate water supply. Holed up in our homes or schools or offices far more than we do now.

I could have sworn I've seen ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability abbreviated "GIOS", not SOS. Where did Stern get that one?


Only touching on desalination of sea water from the Gulf of California in passing, I wonder how much energy desalination takes. Wouldn't that require an awful lot of electricity? Wouldn't SOLAR be the most logical place to look to develop that energy?


Even granting all of Sterns caveats, it all depends on whether massive numbers of people will still want to live here in a scenario where highs exceed 100F for 9 or 10 months every year.

How well will crops adapt to the higher night and day time temps? Stern says farmers will be able to produce more produce with less water. I'll grant that vision for agricultural technology, but how will trees and crops withstand persistent 130F summer days with lows rarely dipping below 100?.


Water, food supply (which depends on water) and energy -- there are way too many open questions to reasonably be able to say with the certainty that Stern does that Phoenix will still be thriving by 2114.

Stern seems to have set about to debunk doomsday climate scenarios, and may have partially succeeded. But he didn't make a very strong case for a thriving Valley of the Unbearably Intense Sun.

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

"The campuses' square footage has grown by 26 percent since 2007. All of Crow's work will be in vain if fears of unsustainability become reality by the time the current students are grandparents."

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

"Though climate studies do reveal a likelihood of reduced river flows"

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

"Nancy Selover, Arizona's official state climatologist"

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

Funny to hear libertarians who pooh-pooh energy efficient light bulbs champion water-efficient toilets.

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

"New development would continue." This is the politics of this article.

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

"A few more degrees won't matter" -- it will if you're farming/gardening.

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

I like how the sentence ""worst-case scenarios are not likely" can exist in the same year we crashed heat records in the summer and in the winter.

Krazy Bill
Krazy Bill

i had expected better from the New Times.

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

Also, MAG? Really? That's your expert? They never met a freeway they didn't love...

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

Developers: please keep coming here so we can keep selling you property!

Krazy Bill
Krazy Bill

i read this tonight; boosterism, that's all it is.

Tyburn Gallows
Tyburn Gallows

Damn, I enjoyed that 82 degrees yesterday. Did you?

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

News Editors; 

Get up to date:

*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.

*Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

 *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.

 *Obama had not mentioned the crisis in two State of the Unions addresses. 

I believe history will look back upon this Reefer Madness of climate blame as a pure war crime and child abuse for goose stepping billions of innocent children to the greenhouse gas ovens of a knowingly exaggerated climate crisis. Not one scientist EVER said it will be "unavoidable" like they say comet hits are and almost all of their research was into effects not causes of an assumed to be real crisis. Maybe the real crime was those of us who chose to work so hard to believe in this misery and issue our own children CO2 death threats to a crisis we believed at the grunt of a headline. How can history not brand us all as end of the world freaks? Hopefully those of us who helped perpetrate 30 years of needless CO2 panic (news editors) will have the legacy of their grandkids explaining to their kids how they were all condemned so easily and with such sickening childish glee.

Science could end this debate instantly just by agreeing one way or the other from their consensus of just "could be" a cataclysmic climate crisis because there is no such thing as a little tiny catastrophic climate crisis so it's a yes or a no; Is a climate crisis from Human CO2 inevitable instead of just probable after 30 years of research?


fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@BigBob   Big Boob  "We have the data"  --- fucking moron, who has the data?  You and Al Gore?  Temperature records have been kept for the last 130 years.  Temperatures on earth have been going up and down for the last 4 1/2 billion years.  Fucking illiterate hoser.  

gmanator31
gmanator31

It could be worse. You could be holed up in your little cubby hole called a house in cold ass Saint Louis where I live lol! Except here in STL you would be holed up for 6 months, not Phoenix's 3!

Believe me dude, I've lived in both cities, and Phoenix beats STL by an astronomical unit lol!

ray.stern
ray.stern moderator

@arizonaeagletarian Hi, and thanks for writing. As my article suggests, (and state climatologist Selover backs up), the prospect of the sort of heat you're talking about is also quite unlikely. A few degrees hotter, maybe, but not nine months with highs over 100, and not routine 130-degree days. The highest temp ever recorded in Phoenix, 122, was 24 years ago. If Phoenix ever starts having "persistent" 120-degree days, the notion of persistent 130-degree days someday might become believable! Experts told me that climate change would be more like moving Phoenix (average elevation 1,124 feet) to a more southern latitude, not moving it to Death Valley, which is below sea level. One other thing I couldn't squeeze into the article is that a few folks told me that future buildings will be designed to limit the heat-island effect, meaning the nights might be cooler in Phoenix in, say, 20 or 30 years than they are now.


GIOS is the Global Institute. SOS is the School of Sustainability. As in, "All new freshmen take part in Camp SOS, which provides students with an introduction to the School of Sustainability, their major, faculty, staff, and their peers." -- http://schoolofsustainability.asu.edu/undergraduate/sos-camp


Lastly, I did ask experts about whether solar was a good energy source for desalination plants. The answer was "no," because desal apparently takes a lot of continuous energy, which solar doesn't provide. One possibility suggested by a physics professor I know is that solar could pump water to a large reservoir at the top of the hill, and when clouds pass overhead or at night, water would be released and used for hydro-electric power. I suppose that concept could be mated with a desal plant. (I'll be writing about that professor's ideas in a blog post soon...)


Happy holidays, everyone. And stay cool!

gmanator31
gmanator31

I thought it was a rather well informed and researched article! Very entertaining too!

The fact is that he is stating the obvious how it is not very fashionable to not believe in all of the modern climatology hype!

I've done extensive research on this topic and not only do I agree with the author, but I also have been telling people this for years!

Do yourself and most of those that have to listen to you a favor. Please put down the pot and acid for a solid year to get your head straight! Not everything in life is built around left wing dooms day, emo, hipsters saying how righteous (Ironically) that they are!

BigBob
BigBob

@fishingblues @BigBob  It's funny, I actually stated how one could, so to speak, "look up" the aforementioned data.  Either you are too stupid to understand what something that simple means, or you are a pathetic internet troll who tries to politicize everything.  Next time you're at the library trolling on their internet computers ask one of the nice ladies who works there to show you how to look it up.  Or, continue to try to make everything in your life about all the small minded political hot button issues that make you so angry.  Either way you are clearly a pathetic, worthless shit stain of a human being.  I take solace seeing how angry your ignorance makes you.  With ignorance comes anger. 

FRONTERA
FRONTERA

@fishingblues@BigBob yes gore won the 2000 electon ,bush stole it with  republican US SUPREME  COURT . If you don't think this planet is n trouble from unfeatered STATE CAPITALISM (you can suck the KOOKE BROS ) jaPAN  FUKAHIMA ,eat that tuna fishing blues ,radio active in your guts. Let me tell you ,you wallst. CAP.PIG... IM about to put the big bet on ,and go SHORT THE SP500 ,JUST LIKE JOE KENNEDY,BUST TIME HA HA ,GETTIN  HORNEY THINKIN BOUT ALL THE MONEY I GONNA MAKE  WHEN YOUR 401 K GOES BUST....PONZI SCHEME  CNBC..

1wayfaringpilgrim
1wayfaringpilgrim

@fishingblues @BigBob fishingblues, your appalling lack civility is exceeded only by your obvious inability to respond in an intelligent and articulate manner.  Fucking asswipe!

royalphoenix
royalphoenix

@ray.stern The US Navy has desalination plants on board their ships. I drank that water for a year. Desalination will be mired in political red tape for decades. peace

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@fishingblues <== the ignorant uneducated retard who doesn't know the difference between believes and beliefs now wants to teach the world everything he knows about science.


ROTFLMAO !!





fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@BigBob @fishingblues Boob - angry?  dumb fuck - I suppose you think I'm a "hater "also.  You sound just like all of the other junior high girls.

If you don't think the crapola being put out as fact, relative to "global warming", isn't political and money motivated, than your big old melon of a head is way up your big old universe of an ass.  

Jazus!  You stupid fucking liberals are gullible.  

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@1wayfaringpilgrim @fishingblues @BigBob 


Well now fari, I suppose your response and "appalling lack of civility" is exempt from what you claim because, well, it is from you.


I find it difficult to respond in an "intelligent" fashion when the statement "we have the data" was so patently absurd.


Now, prove to the listening audience how "intelligent" you are by explaining exactly where I have been inarticulate.  numbnuts!


Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...