Nearing the end of April, Southern Arizona will feel one last cool dip as summer nears, and the warmest day of 2024 so far has already passed.

Once the school year wraps up, and children spend hours running and biking in the Arizona heat, leaders and scientists want other parents and the community to be ready when they go out camping or play outdoors.

Dr. Joellen Russell also wants families to think longer-term about keeping the community cool and clean for future generations.

Russell, an accomplished oceanographer and University of Arizona faculty chair and professor, is also a senior adviser and member of the climate policy group, ‘Science Moms.’

She points to a recent trend climate scientists have noticed, showing the United States lowered its overall carbon emissions by nearly 3 percent from 2022 to 2023.

“Nobody even (really) notices that we’re reducing our carbon footprint it’s fantastic,” Russell said. “We’ve been growing our economy and our population while cutting our carbon emissions.”

That will help people breathe better, but Russell said one consequence of that carbon reduction is there will also be fewer particles in the air that actually helped reflect excess sunlight. As one public health issue improves, she said it will be crucial for communities like Tucson to keep investing in projects that value sustainability and protection against the summer heat.

Protecting Arizona families from this summer’s heat

“We know how to do it here in Tucson,” Russell said. “We’re putting in more shade trees, more shade structures; even the smart things like solar panels over parking lots, so you don’t cook when you get in your car, solar panels over the kids’ playgrounds at the public schools fantastic idea.”

Looking toward the middle-and-long term, Russell said she thinks community partners, in particular Tucson Unified School Districts and its peer organizations, should continue to invest in more new electric buses.

Beyond that, she said, cities and companies can continue to champion cooling infrastructure projects, and investing in alternate forms of energy. “If we keep moving the direction we are, we could hang out our shingle as one of the first ‘green’ states,” she said.

Russell said it’s also likely communities in Arizona will benefit from the creation of a lead heat officer in the state’s Department of Health Services. After a deadly summer last year in both Pima and Maricopa counties, Russell said, in best case scenarios, this role will help communities focus on keeping people safe, while also advising public and private partners on new cooling resources and projects.