When Rebecca Sunenshine moved to Phoenix, Arizona, her first electric bill shocked her. “I called the utility and said, ‘You must have made a mistake.’ Because I think it was a $400 or $500 bill,” says Sunenshine, who is the medical director for Disease Control with the Maricopa County Health Department. “And they said, ‘Did you just move here?’”

The utility hadn’t erred. Air-conditioning accounts for about a quarter of Arizonans’ energy use, more than four times the national average. And it’s not a luxury. Without air conditioning, summer heat in Phoenix can be fatal. Last year, Maricopa County recorded 323 heat-related deaths—a record for the county. “We’ve had the highest number we’ve ever seen several years in a row,” says Sunenshine. The county is currently on track to exceed last year’s toll.

Extreme temperatures haven’t been confined to the Southwest. June was the hottest month ever recorded in…

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