Analysis of Phoenix, AZ Heat as a Social Ecological System

Resource System
Urban terrestrial land and associated watershed
Resource Units
Climate regulation
Phoenix, AZ

Cities have a finite capacity to dissipate heat into the environment; I consider this a resource that Phoenix residents use within a resource system. This resource can be amplified or attenuated by human-made public and private infrastructure, which can include, public green spaces and building codes, or private net-heat-generating air conditioning and automobiles. The common pool resource dilemma is the potential for under investment in public infrastructure and over appropriation of the resource. The institutions in the Phoenix case study create a public goods style social dilemma, whereby no individual will pay enough for the non-excludable and asymmetrical benefits of public cooling infrastructure, leading to private cooling behaviors at the expense of optimal aggregate cooling capacity. The resource system is vulnerable to exogenous shocks: to the resource through climactic and weather changes, to the public infrastructure through disasters and natural entropic processes, to the public infrastructure providers through political and economic variability, and to resource users from variable finances and mobility. Resource users are also vulnerable to endogenous shocks from personal decision-making about for example, hydration and attire. Framing the problem this way exposes specific governance challenges: measuring the city’s capacity to dissipate heat, determining an equitable distribution of that resource, monitoring and sanctioning that distribution, overcoming the public goods dilemma, and building institutions that are robust to shocks.