How will Texas Fare in the New Climate Future?

This post was co-authored by Elena Craft, Ph.D., Senior Health Scientist, and Kate Zerrenner, Clean Energy Project Manager. 

Source: Austin American Statesman

Source: Austin American Statesman

Early this week, the White House released the third National Climate Assessment (NCA). What’s the main take away? That Americans are already feeling the effects of climate change.

The NCA, authored by 300 experts and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee, analyzes the best available data in the U.S. on the observed and future impacts of climate change, and organizes its findings for specific sectors and regions. Texas falls under the Great Plains region and the state’s bustling economy includes many industries that will be affected by a changing climate, such as agriculture and energy.  Our water, ecosystems, transportation, and more will also be affected. It is clear from this report that heat and drought will intensify in Texas, putting energy, agriculture, and human health at increased risk. State leaders need to enact policies now to protect us and our livelihoods. 

A hot climate turns dry (as do our rivers and lakes)

Texas is known for its scorching temperatures, but as climate change takes hold we can expect longer and even hotter summers. The report states that average U.S. temperatures have increased by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since record-keeping began in 1895 –and most of this warming has occurred since 1970. While this may not seem like a drastic increase, it actually is, and the summer of 2011 is an example (or a forewarning) of the weather conditions that we should expect more of in the future.

The notorious summer of 2011, which recorded over 100 days of triple-digit weather, exacerbated an existing drought that continues to cripple Texas’ water supplies, economy, and communities. Ranchers have been forced to sell off cattle, town water supplies continue to dwindle, and some power plants struggle to provide a reliable supply of electricity due to water scarcity. As freshwater supplies shrink throughout the state, more communities will rely on importing water supplies, and water-dependent industries, such as agriculture and fossil-fuel power plants, will fight over remaining water resources.

Coastal communities are most vulnerable

As Texas boasts more than 360 miles of coastline and 3,300 miles of bay shores, climate change threatens the economic prosperity of our coastal communities, escalates our risk of super-charged storms, and increases the chance of severe flooding. The reason? Climate change is warming the oceans and causing sea levels to rise – a dangerous combination that strengthens storms and storm surges, and therefore increases the likelihood of severe flooding. In fact, the report confirms that global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880 and is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100.

But we don’t need to wait until the end of the century to understand the gravity of this situation.

Americans, including Texans, have already experienced the effects of severe storms in recent years. Superstorm Sandy pummeled the Northeast, destroying homes and businesses, and leaving millions of families without electricity for days, weeks, and – in some cases – months. In Texas, we’ve already seen how rising sea levels are worsening storm surges for even weaker storms, like Hurricane Ike – a disaster still ever present on the minds of Coastal Texans. Climate change means we should brace ourselves for more damage from severe storms.

Texas’ ranching tradition could be a way of the past

Source: NCA

Source: NCA

Texas takes pride in its rich history of cowboys and pioneers who forged a culture of ranching that still thrives today. This cultivation is the reason why Texas is considered one of the breadbaskets of America, but as Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech and contributor to the NCA report, points out: “We’re going to have to change the way that we grow our crops and manage our livestock if we’re going to be able to adapt to a changing climate.”

In 2011, the year of the abominable drought, ranchers and farmers lost over $10 billion as crops wilted, cattle was sold off, and utilities shut off water to farms, inevitably sending food prices soaring across the nation. The NCA report presents some grim findings for the future: “Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years.” The new climate future means Texas’ agriculture sector must adapt to drier conditions and develop innovative ways to sustain farms with less water.

What can we do?

Given these bleak conditions, it should not come as a surprise that 70 percent of Texans believe global warming is happening—and 52 percent said they have personally experienced the effects of global warming. The good news is that there are specific actions that our leaders can take right now to mitigate the effects of climate change and protect the well-being of future generations.

To begin with, clean energy is Texas’ best means to address climate change. Texas leaders should increase the use of the state’s abundant wind energy resources and catalyze the state’s abundant solar energy potential to cope with the continuing drought and warming climate. Texas is already the nation’s leader in wind power and has the greatest solar energy potential in the nation- plus these resources consume little to no water and generate negligible carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is another clean energy tool that will help offset the need for climate-disrupting power plants, and help homes and businesses reduce their overall carbon footprint.

The most direct and significant effort Texas leaders could make right now is to support Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Carbon Pollution Standards for new and existing coal power plants. Historically, Texas leaders have opposed environmental protections proposed by EPA, but as the NCA confirms, the science is settled and our leaders need to step up to the plate in the fight against climate change.

So, while it remains to be seen how Texas will fare in the new climate future, Texans have an opportunity now to let their voices be heard and demand more action from their elected officials. We all have a responsibility to take action, protect our environment, and advocate for the health of future generations. As Legislators from all corners of Texas convene for the next legislative session in January, call upon your elected representatives and tell them to fight for a clean, healthy future for all Texans.

This entry was posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Coal, Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Environment, Extreme Weather, Legislation, Renewable Energy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

One Comment

  1. ray delcolle
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

    “Climate change puts us at risk of extreme weather that costs hundreds of billions every year.”