2015 Climate Corps fellow Phoebe Romero and her supervisor sitting near a solar-powered phone charging station on the Huston-Tillotson campus.
We are nearing the end of another successful season of EDF Climate Corps, the 8-year-old program run by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that “embeds” grad students inside companies to find ways to save energy and money and lower carbon emissions.
Over the course of its history, EDF Climate Corps has developed into something of powerhouse from both sides of the energy sector: enterprising students (called “fellows”) discover a passion for sustainability through the act of finding efficiencies in the energy systems of their host organizations, and the hosts benefit from these energy savings while jumpstarting or contributing to their sustainability goals.
This year, 12 Texas companies and public sector entities hosted fellows, and this got us to thinking, what kind of evolution and impact has the Climate Corps program had in Texas over the years? We decided it was worth a closer look and turns out, fellows have been saving Texas schools, businesses, and other organizations a lot of energy – and a lot of money.
A solar furnace in the Pyrenees, France.
If you drive around the Lone Star State, you’re sure to see bumper stickers that say, “Texas: Bigger than France.” It references an ongoing debate about which “country” is bigger (something Texans feel very strongly about), but a closer look (aka, a quick Google search) reveals Texas and France are roughly equivalent in size. This, however, is where the similarities end – at least until recently.
Earlier this summer, France and the rest of Western Europe were in the grips of a record-breaking heatwave. Texans are certainly no strangers to crippling heat, even if we have been enjoying a relatively mild summer (so far) with regular spring and summer rains. But one year of El Nino climate patterns does not mean Texas is in the clear. Nor does it mean one abnormally hot summer in France is the last one they’ll see.
Global climate change predictions show that extreme heat and drought are on the rise, meaning both Texas and France increasingly need to consider water in their energy decisions. Why? Because as temperatures increase, so will our energy demand, which means an increase in demand for water, too.
Both France and Texas are facing some tough times ahead based on climate models, but their responses are very different. Read More
An abridged version of the below ran as an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman today.
Flooding near Whole Foods in May 2015. Source: Instagram/Caleb Eike Smith
Unfortunately, a good rain washes away more than the drought; it washes away much of man’s interest in providing for the next one, and it washes the supports from under those who know that another dry cycle is coming and who urge their fellows to make ready for it.
— “More Water for Texas” by Walter Prescott Webb (1954)
As a native Austinite, I remember the historic Memorial Day Flood of 1981. I was a little kid and the storm was so intense I asked my Mom if I could sleep in her bed. I remember seeing pictures of grand pianos from Strait Music store and cars from the dealerships floating down Lamar Boulevard, and the original Whole Foods flooding. Austin has changed a lot in the intervening decades, and although many of the store fronts are different, the pictures taken of Lamar this Memorial Day were eerily similar.
In Texas we are used to cycles of drought and flood; we know extreme weather just as we know extreme personalities and politics. But the natural dynamics are changing in Texas, and we can no longer rely on the saving grace of a “rain bomb” to get us out of the next drought. Make no mistake, the next drought is just around the corner. The best way to help Texas conserve water now is to urgently pursue clean energy and better planning between the energy and water sectors. Read More
Being an environmental advocate in Texas may seem like an uphill battle, and I make no bones about the fact it most certainly is. Plus, the Texas Legislature only meets for 140 days every other year, so the frenzy of activity during the Legislative Session (in local parlance, “The Lege”) is intense.
While my Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) colleagues may be able to make impressive strides in protecting their respective states against climate change, we in Texas must take pride in all of our legislative achievements, both big and not so much. It’s these small steps that add up to change in the right direction.
In addition to the many small steps that made up the 2015 Legislative Session, I say with great pride we also had a big win: On June 17, Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill (SB) 991 into law, requiring the General Land Office and the Texas Water Development Board to study the economic and geophysical potential of using solar and wind energy to desalinate brackish groundwater. From concept to law, SB 991 has involved the input and energy of numerous stakeholders – and it paid off. Read More
Earlier this week, I testified at a hearing of the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation, specifically on how Texas will respond to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), the nation’s first-ever limit on carbon pollution from existing power plants. But before I went to the Capitol, my three-year-old daughter asked me where I was going. I told her I was going to work, and she asked me, “Mommy, what are you going to save?” I replied that I was going to save water, and she said, “Good job, Mommy.”
That’s exactly what the CPP could do for Texas: save millions of gallons of water each year by encouraging the state to switch from polluting power sources (like coal plants) to non-polluting sources (such as wind and solar farms) and increase no-water solutions like energy efficiency.
It’s no secret that Texas is currently in the midst of a multi-year drought – yet the vast majority of our electricity comes from sources that contribute to this prolonged drought, namely coal, nuclear, and natural gas. All of these energy sources require copious amounts of water to produce electricity. Read More
Cowboys, frontier grit, accented English, and wild, wide open spaces are just a few of the similarities shared by Texas and Australia. Both places also have an energy-water problem. But, the good news for Texas is that it’s not too late for us to learn from Australia’s mistakes – and a few successes, too.
In July 2014, Australia abandoned its carbon price, which gave Australia, a country with one of the highest per capita emissions of any developed country in the world and uses even more coal than the United States, the largest carbon-price system in the world outside of the European Union. (That is, until California’s program took effect in January 2013—California has the first-ever economy-wide carbon market in North America, potentially linking to other sub-national, national and regional markets around the world.) Since then, the Australian government has been in talks to significantly scale back its renewable energy target (RET), and the months-long squabbling without resolution is threatening the country’s renewable energy sector.
Texas, whose drought started in October 2010, is now in its worst drought on record. And some Texas leaders are taking a similar, short-sighted path as Australia when it comes to rolling back successful clean energy initiatives – ones that could also save scarce water supplies. Currently in the midst of its biennial legislative session, Texas is considering bills that would scrap the state’s successful wind renewable portfolio standard and prevent the state from complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP), which establishes the nation’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution. Read More