Seven Ways Climate Change is Already Hitting Texas
Extreme weather events, water scarcity, risks of illness: Climate change is here, and it’s already affecting Texans.
By Maria Méndez & Erin Douglas
May 18, 2022
May 18, 2022
For decades, scientists warned that human-induced climate change could put communities in danger around the world.
More intense climate and weather events beyond natural climate variability have already damaged people and nature. Those threats are becoming increasingly evident in Texas. The ongoing heat wave, which brought unseasonably high temperatures and once again raised concerns about the capacity of the state’s power grid, is just one example.
Here’s how climate change is already affecting Texans.
TEXAS IS GETTING HOTTER — EVEN AT NIGHT
Sundown isn’t providing as much relief, according to a 2021 report published by the state’s climatologist.
The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in the state both rose by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit from 1895 to 2020, according to the report. The biggest changes in average temperatures were reported in urban areas, where buildings and roads absorb more of the sun’s heat, but every Texas county saw an increase. Even minor shifts in average temperatures require more electricity from the power grid, endanger the health of people who work outdoors, and can alter climate patterns and ecosystems. Heat also increases the prevalence of ground-level ozone pollution, or smog, making it harder for people with asthma and other health concerns to breathe outdoors in major Texas cities.
This year, cities across Texas have seen record triple-digit temperatures amid a prolonged spring heat wave that officials warned could lead to heat exhaustion and illness.
HURRICANES THAT HIT THE TEXAS COAST ARE GETTING MORE POWERFUL
Warming oceans fuel hurricanes, increasing the amount of precipitation, strengthening winds and resulting in more flooding on land, scientists have found.
Climate change increased the intensity of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, multiple studies found after the storm. Harvey could not have produced so much rain without human-induced climate change, scientists concluded.
Harvey, the costliest U.S. disaster that year, caused $125 billion in damage, and more than 100 people died from direct causes such as flooding and indirect causes such as disruption to medical services, according to a report from the National Hurricane Center.
SEA LEVELS ARE RISING ALONG THE TEXAS GULF COAST
Sea level rise will also make communities more vulnerable to storm surge during hurricanes, the 2018 National Climate Assessment warned. Already, scientists have observed increases in the number of tidal flood days in areas like Texas’ Port Isabel.
Between 2000 and 2019, rising sea levels caused the Texas coastline to retreat, on average, about 1.25 meters, or about 4 feet, per year, according to a 2021 University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology report for the Texas General Land Office. A 2021 report by the state’s climatologist found that a 1-meter relative sea level rise produces a doubling of storm surge risk.
“The places along the Texas coast with the largest rates of sea level rise may have a doubled storm surge risk by 2050 relative to the beginning of the 20th century, purely due to relative sea level rise itself,” the report said.
OTHER EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS IN TEXAS COULD GET WORSE
Winters are generally becoming milder, but some emerging science suggests that global warming could play a role in
arctic changes that cause southerly cold snaps like the one that devastated Texas in February 2021.
The 2021 freeze caused as many as 700 deaths, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis, and up to $129 billion in economic damage, according to The Perryman Group, an economic firm.
The state will need to upgrade its infrastructure, including the power grid, to withstand extreme weather while cutting back on carbon emissions to help slow climate change, experts have said.
WATER IS BECOMING SCARCE
Global warming enhances droughts by increasing water evaporation and reducing snow, which can serve as a water source and retain moisture in the ground.
In Texas, some experts fear a drier-than-usual winter and less rainfall this spring could put parts of the state in a drought similar to the one Texas saw in 2011, the driest year recorded in the state.
In West Texas’ Big Bend National Park, the Rio Grande has stopped flowing in recent months, and experts there worry the river could dry up more frequently, Marfa Public Radio reported.
In the second half of this century, Texas could see “megadroughts” worse than any previously recorded, according to a 2020 report from Texas A&M and University of Texas at Austin scientists.
The projections are of particular concern for communities like Dallas, which relies entirely on surface water — which is more vulnerable to evaporation — and farmers and ranchers, who rely on rainfall for crops and livestock.
Severe droughts could limit forage growth needed to raise cattle for beef, for example. Droughts, along with disruptions from natural disasters, could strain the state’s food supply chains and drive prices up.
THE RISK OF ILLNESSES IS GROWING
Warmer waters with reduced flow are more susceptible to pathogens, such as a brain-eating amoeba found in Lake Jackson in 2020, posing risks for recreational use and consumption.
Texas’ warming temperatures are also more inviting to insects that carry and transmit diseases historically seen in the tropics. That’s what experts say happened in 2012, when hundreds of Texans in the Dallas area were diagnosed with the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus after a warm winter.
Dengue fever and the Zika virus, also transmitted by mosquitoes, are expected to become more common in warming climates.
Climate change is driving more migrationAs communities around the globe increasingly feel the impacts of climate change, more people could head to Texas.
Last year, Politico documented how states along the U.S.-Mexico border have become destinations for thousands of people fleeing Central America because of climate change, food insecurity and poverty.
And with sea levels rising along the U.S. coast, about 1.5 million Americans could relocate to Texas by 2100, according to a 2017 study. The Austin-Round Rock area would be the top destination, according to the study, but the Houston and Dallas areas could also see a large influx of climate migrants.
Texans Face Greater Risk of Heat, Drought and Hurricanes
The state’s silence stands in contrast to governments across the world tackling climate change at a UN summit in Scotland.
By David Schechter, Chance Horner
November 7, 2021
While the science on climate change is unequivocal – that Texas will face a future of more extreme heat, drought, fire and hurricanes – Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration has no policy on how those risks will impact Texans or how to mitigate them.
Abbott’s position stands in stark contrast to agencies, like the United States Department of Defense, which considers climate change a "threat multiplier" to military operations, and to the efforts of world leaders gathered at the United Nation’s COP26 Summit in Scotland to negotiate rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
MORE EXTREMES AHEAD
In Texas, at least 210 people died in the cold and dark during the February 2021 winter storm. It was the most expensive disaster in state history.
Like a set of dominoes, the extreme cold created a cascading effect. For example, when power plants froze that meant some water plants, running on electricity, did not have the power to pump water. Without water, the National Guard resorted to airlifting bottles of water across the state.
A widely-reported paper in the journal Science indicates the domino that started the cascade was likely climate change. In it, scientists draw a connection between climate change and the likelihood that arctic temperatures could sag all the way down to Texas.
“It's all tied together. Everybody has to worry about everything,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor at Texas A&M University and the Texas State Climatologist, talking about the risks of climate change.
Through his work, Nielsen-Gammon has been warning state policymakers about those risks for years. His latest research indicates we're headed for a future of more extremes: more 100-degree days, more extreme rainfall, more urban flooding, more intense hurricanes, more severe drought, more risk of wildfire.
Does he think that officials responsible for mitigating against future risk must consider climate change in their planning?
“If you're dealing with risk that is weather sensitive, then yes,” he said.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE OF TEXAS
In 2011, Texas was hit with one of the worst droughts in history. Farmers and ranchers sustained $8 billion in losses, 300 million trees died and it was the worst year for wildfires in state history.
How long did it take farmers to recover from that devastating year?
“It may be two years after the fact, hopefully, if things go well, before you come back to even to recuperate what you lose in that year,” said John Paul Dineen, a farmer in Waxahachie.
So, what is the state of Texas doing to prepare for future droughts?
Bois D'arc Lake, in Fannin County, is the first major new reservoir in Texas in 30 years. It takes a long time to develop a new water source, like this. That’s one reason the state's water plan looks 50 years into the future.
The mission is to always have enough water in case of a drought that's as bad as the worst drought Texas has ever had, called the drought of record.
But in a scientific research paper called Unprecedented Drought Challenges for Texas, Nielsen-Gammon and others conclude, because of climate change, future droughts are likely to be worse than the drought of record.
SHOULD THE STATE BE PLANNING FOR THAT?
“I think they should,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “You're basically assuming the droughts that occurred in the past are going to be similar to the droughts that occur in the future. That's not necessarily a good assumption.”
But the Texas Water Development Board, whose commissioners are appointed by the governor, has no policy on how climate change could impact the state's future water supply.
Chairwoman Brooke Paup declined to be interviewed for this story. However, in a statement, a representative wrote, "...planning groups and local water providers have the flexibility to consider, balance, and address a variety of potential risks and uncertainties, including the risk of a drought worse than the drought of record.”
In other words, helping Texans navigate the risks that climate change will pose to their water supply is not the board’s job.
On this episode of Y'all-itics, David joined the Jasons to talk about the climate summit, and the possible impacts for Texas.
WHERE ABBOTT'S AGENCIES STAND
We found the Water Board is one of 10 major state agencies -- all run by commissioners appointed by Abbott – that do not have a policy on how climate change impacts state operations.
More extreme temperatures will likely increase the demand for electricity, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It could also hamper how energy is produced and delivered, as Texans saw last winter. But the Texas Public Utility Commission, responsible for keeping the lights on in Texas, has no policy on how climate change will impact the reliable energy Texans count on.
In a statement the PUC writes: “Texas has always had highly variable weather, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, any policy decision needs to be made on sound science and data...”
Climate Change degrades air quality and increases ozone levels, according to the EPA. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is responsible for maintaining air quality, but has no policy on how climate change will impact the air Texans breathe.
In a statement the TCEQ writes it, “…uses air monitoring data and a variety of other inputs to develop future projections for air quality in Texas. That said, the agency does not use climate change projections to evaluate future impact on air quality.”
Hurricanes, heavy rain and heat are all made more intense by climate change, according the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But the Texas Department of Emergency Management, responsible for responding to disasters, has no policy on how climate change will impact the disasters Texans will face.
In a statement, TDEM writes that it “uses various professionals, organizations, and models to study weather and weather patterns that may impact Texas…” and “…takes an all-hazards approach to preparedness and is ready to respond to all disasters whether natural or manmade.”
Guidance from several federal agencies says extreme rain, heat and drought caused by climate change can disrupt transportation systems. The Texas Department of Transportation, responsible for the state's roads and bridges, says it takes steps to harden its assets against extreme weather conditions, but it has no policy on how climate change will impact overall mobility in the future.
In a statement, TXDOT writes it has “a combination of programs and projects that are adaptable and flexible to keep our system resilient to changing conditions of flooding, sea-level rise, extreme heat and drought. Some of these include: updating models and design standards for roads and bridges that are susceptible to extreme weather; efforts to reduce flooding, soil erosion and water pollution; an investigation team that evaluates pavement affected by extreme heat and drought; and more consideration of extreme weather events during project design and maintenance activities.”
Heat-related illness, asthma and allergies are getting worse because of climate change, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
But the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for improving the health, safety and well-being of Texans, has no policy on how climate change impacts that mission.
In a statement TDHHS writes it “does not consider climate change for our projections and we do not have a policy regarding climate change.”
A report from Columbia University Law School finds climate change “will strain the already overburdened U.S. correctional system and imperil the health of inmates and penal employees alike…” The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which houses inmates and employs prison workers in facilities without air conditioning, has no policy on how climate change impacts the agency’s mission.
In a statement the TDCJ writes it “…works closely with other state agencies on climate projections to make operational decisions,” however none of the agencies it mentioned have a policy on climate change.
The National Parks Conservation Alliance says “climate change is the greatest threat the national parks have ever faced.” Texas Parks and Wildlife is responsible for managing and conserving the natural and cultural resources of Texas for future generations. When planning for the future, TPWD says it does take into account environmental changes, but it does not have a policy on how climate change impacts its mission.
In a statement, TPWD writes it is “… continually reviewing how a dynamic climate impacts park lands for Texans, especially since public use and outdoor recreation facilities are so connected to the natural environment. When planning for the future, we consider several environmental factors, including increased flooding, sea-level rise, and stronger heat waves and winter storms. In addition, our agency has identified resources conservation strategies that are required to be considered with every new construction project to assure sustainability.”
Experts warn that insurance providers face increased risk and exposure from more frequent catastrophic events. The Texas Department of Insurance, which regulates the business of insurance, has no policy on how climate change may impact the insurance industry.
On multiple occasions WFAA requested an interview with Governor Abbott asking why his government has no formal plans to address the risks Texans face from climate change. His office did not respond.
By contrast, there is the example of Texas Forest Service, responsible for protecting and sustaining the state’s trees and forests. It’s run by Texas A&M University and its leadership is not appointed by the Governor.
The U.S. Forest Service says that climate change may make trees more susceptible to disease and death. And while TFS says it does not have a formal policy on how climate change impacts its mission the agency’s Forest Action Plan gives strong consideration to the impact of climate change on forests and ways to address the issue.
The commissioners of the Texas General Land Office, Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Railroad Commission are all elected positions and not appointed by the governor. None of these agencies have a policy on climate change, either.
THE POLITICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN TEXAS
“The politics of this, if you're a Republican, are very tricky,” said Dr. Jim Henson, Director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
Even though the science of climate change is rock solid, Henson polled Texans, asking "is climate change happening?" He found that the political divide on that question is enormous: 86% of strongly-identifying Democrats said yes, compared to 25% of strongly-identifying Republicans.
“When everybody adopts a norm that says, ‘You know, we can't really talk about climate change directly or explicitly,’ that's going to affect the policy discussion,” he said. “Silence becomes the default option in a polarized environment like this.”
The politics of climate change also reached into government inquiries that followed the aftermath of the February winter storm.
During a hearing with experts to better understand why the state-run power grid failed in Texas, Senator John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston, said,
“I think we have to put it on the table, ‘global warming’ or whatever is happening to our weather patterns. Would it be your educated advice that we better get ready for more?”
With that, another senator who was chairing the hearing, Kelly Hancock, a Republican from Tarrant County interrupted.
“I really want to focus on last week. Was it predicted? Can you predict the extent? Should we have known it was going to last this long? How easy is that to predict? Those type of events,” Hancock said. “Rather than get into a climate change discussion at this point,” he added.
The science is clear: climate change is juicing up the destructiveness of hurricanes, drought, fire. Around the country and the world, governments are making plans to address those risks.
But, in Texas, the response is silence.
The Abbott Administration will not talk about climate change and will not use climate science to tackle the risks Texans face in the future and try to do something about them now.
New Report Shows Texas is Far More Vulnerable to Extreme Weather Due to Climate Change
By Niki Griswold
October 07, 2021
October 07, 2021
AUSTIN, Texas — A new report released Thursday found that climate change is making Texas far more vulnerable to extreme weather events.
What You Need To Know
The research shows that Texas is going to keep getting hotter, while the severity and frequency of natural disasters are expected to dramatically increase and will have an impact on everything from infrastructure to public health.
“Extreme rainfall getting worse because of higher temperatures and changes in weather patterns, droughts getting worse because of greater evaporation, those all get connected to those temperature changes," said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist, author of the report, and atmospheric sciences professor at Texas A&M University.
The new climate report by Texas A&M and the nonprofit Texas 2036 found that the number of 100 degree days in Texas has more than doubled over the last 40 years and could double again by 2036.
Those rising temperatures are expected to have a significant impact on public health and industries like agriculture and construction.
“Workers, and especially employers, are going to need to be more conscious of making sure that people that have to work outside are protected and safe when they do that. That may lead to fewer hours of being able to work outside and lower productivity as a trade off for having to deal with more 100 degree days," said Nielsen-Gammon.
A big concern is how extreme weather will affect the state’s infrastructure. The research indicates that urban flooding could increase from 30% to 50%.
“For me the biggest changes to worry about are those associated with changes in extreme rainfall because that is going to be a very expensive problem going forward," said Nielsen-Gammon. "We already saw with Hurricane Harvey with over $100 billion of damage. It's already an expensive enough problem that we have to deal with.”
The report also shows that climate change is already having an impact in Texas.
Because of rising sea levels, Texas coastlines are already receding, and the research predicts that the risk of hurricane storm surge along some parts of the gulf coast will be twice as high as they were a hundred years ago.
The report included poll results that show Texans are not optimistic that the state is prepared.
“Only 40% said of the state was well prepared for extreme weather events. A majority, however, 59%, and that's close to 60, said that the state was not well prepared for extreme weather events," said Jeremy Mazur, senior policy advisor with Texas 2036.
The polling shows that Texans want the government to invest in making the state more resilient to natural disasters, including weatherizing the energy grid and funding flood control projects.
"When we're talking about long term projections of global temperatures being three or four degrees Celsius higher as a possibility by the end of the century, in Texas that translates six to 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer," said Nielsen-Gammon. "In a sense, the fact that we're only looking up to 2036 sort of underplays the risks of climate change. In fact, what we do for infrastructure between now and 2036 is going to be designed to protect us after 2036, while temperatures are still rising."
It’s not about saving the planet. The planet will survive. The planet will be orbiting the sun long after we’re gone. It’s about saving us.
— Katharine Hayhoe
— Katharine Hayhoe
By Brantley Hargrove
August 13, 2021
August 13, 2021
The planet is running a temperature and it’s getting harder not to notice. The western states seem like they’re always on fire. Last month, the mostly un-air-conditioned Pacific Northwest shattered temperature records, giving folks in Portland, Oregon, a taste of Texas summer. Here, six years separated the hottest, driest year in Lone Star history (2011) from the most significant rainfall event in U.S. history (Hurricane Harvey, 2017), one of several one-hundred-year and five-hundred-year flood events to strike the Houston area in a span of three years. The three hottest Augusts on record in Austin are 2011, 2019, and 2020. So no, it isn’t your imagination. Things are getting weird.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—that august global body that delivers semi-regular syntheses of the latest science on our warming world—concludes that conditions are virtually guaranteed to get worse. Scientists have long warned that an increase in average global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) could produce catastrophic changes for humans and other animal and plant species.
Unfortunately, according to the IPCC assessment released this week, the planet is expected to pass that threshold as soon as the early 2030s—just a decade or so from now. That means more drought, more fire, more heat, more unusually intense hurricanes. That’s the bad news.
The good news is there’s still time to head off the worst of it—and maybe even reverse some of the damage we’ve done. To better understand the latest IPCC report and what it portends for Texas and the world, Texas Monthly spoke with Katharine Hayhoe, a professor and researcher at Texas Tech who runs the university’s Climate Center. Besides coauthoring the past three National Climate Assessments, serving as an expert reviewer on the Nobel Prize–winning IPCC, and being widely regarded as one of the best in the world at talking about climate science in terms people can understand, she’s also an evangelical Christian. In fact, she’s something of an ambassador to a group that has largely turned a deaf ear to what the planet is telling us. But if there’s anyone who can get people to listen, it’s Hayhoe.
Texas Monthly: What’s the top-line conclusion in this report for you?
Katharine Hayhoe: What’s new is, first of all, there is no equivocation. There is no mincing of words for any country, or company, or state, or city, or organization to hide behind and to say, “Oh, scientists aren’t sure. They don’t know enough yet. We need to study it more.” No, we have everything we need to act. There’s always something new to learn. The planet is as complex as a human body. But we are certain that climate is changing, humans are responsible, and that the impacts are serious. Our future is in our hands. Our choices will determine the outcome.
TM: Why were scientists hoping we’d head off that 1.5 Celsius increase in average global temperature, and what does it mean now that we likely won’t?
KH: As humans, we need targets. If you’re going to lose weight, you set a target. So scientists put together all the science in the world on how climate change would affect crops in Africa, water in the [American] Southwest, hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, thawing permafrost in the Arctic. People, places, food, water, the economy, species. They pulled all of that together and asked, “What type of changes do we see as the world gets warmer by one degree [Celsius]?” which we’ve already reached. Or by one and a half degrees? By two degrees? By two and a half degrees? By three degrees? When do we start to see widespread dangerous impacts?
Science can put a number on how much worse human-caused climate change made Hurricane Harvey. We get hurricanes here in Texas; that’s a normal part of life. But we know that climate change is a threat multiplier. It’s taking naturally occurring events and amplifying them.
In the case of hurricanes, it’s making hurricanes bigger, stronger, and slower, and it’s increasing the rainfall associated with them. A best-guess estimate for how much more rain fell during Harvey because of a warmer ocean and a warmer atmosphere is about 37 percent more rain. There was a study that came out in April that shows that climate change increased the economic damages of Harvey. It was responsible for about three quarters of the economic damages [or about $67 billion of the hurricane’s $90 billion toll]. That’s a stunning number.
So, scientists put together all of that for all over the world and they said, “Where do we see the impacts getting really dangerous, really costly at a widespread level?” And they said, “Well, definitely by two degrees.”
Every bit of warming matters. Everything we do counts. And the more we do, the better off we will all be. Because you know what? Texas is the most vulnerable state in the whole U.S. to extreme weather and climate disasters already. And that’s because of our geographic location. We get everything. We get hurricanes, tornadoes, supercell thunderstorms, hail, drought, blizzards, ice storms, floods. We get everything.
TM: What can Texas water planners expect under different scenarios?
KH: Water planners across the state are already beginning to incorporate climate projections into their work. And I know because I speak with many of them. Water planners are very different than producers, and farmers and ranchers. Water planners go out fifty years, eighty years, in some cases even a hundred years. They’re also very familiar with long-term data, with temperature data, precipitation data, evaporation data, water supply, water demand, and how that fluctuates. Water planners had a huge wake-up call during the 2011–2012 drought. And that led many of them to realize that basing their plans on the drought of record in the past might not be a reliable source for water planning in the future if the droughts are getting more intense.
We need to start planning for a drought that’s just as bad, if not worse, than what we’ve already had, not a drought that’s only as bad as what we’ve had in the past. Here’s what our research found that we did at Texas Tech: As the world warms, the ocean is getting warmer. And as the high-pressure system [that annually brings dry weather to Texas during midsummer] passes on its annual migration over the Southeast, over the Gulf of Mexico, by Florida and by Alabama, and then on to Texas, that warmer water is going to be making that high-pressure system stronger.
So that natural seasonal pattern that we get, we’re going to have a greater risk of those stronger, longer-lasting drought years. Climate change is loading the dice against us. That’s why we know, again, that Texas is vulnerable because we’ve actually done the work. It’s not an issue [just] for people who live far away. It’s not an issue just for our children, our grandchildren. It’s affecting us right here and right now.
TM: Speaking of children and grandchildren, I have a toddler and another baby on the way. You can’t help but start thinking beyond your own lifespan to that of your children and your grandchildren. If we don’t take drastic action now, what can my son expect when he’s my age? And then my potential grandchildren, who will presumably see a new century?
KH: That’s exactly why I care. I mean, I’m a mom. And as a parent, you would do anything for your child. You want them to be able to grow up in a world that’s better than the world that we grew up in, not worse.
The climate is changing faster than at any time in the history of human civilization. What it’s doing is it’s taking our naturally occurring risks and it’s exacerbating them. We would be seeing weeks [full] of days over a hundred degrees by the time our children are our age. We would be seeing supersized hurricanes. We would be seeing longer, stronger droughts. We would be seeing increasing risk of heavy rainfall and flood. And of course these risks are already increasing. I mean, in some parts of Houston, they had three five-hundred-year flood events in three years. So we would see a world
that was less stable, less safe. Where people couldn’t take clean water for granted, or a stable supply chain, or a healthy economy, or even a safe environment.
KH: It does. It absolutely does, because COVID has so many parallels to climate change. COVID is an issue that we thought of as distant and far off until it was already here. COVID is an issue that requires action at all levels. Governments, universities, and corporations had to get together and collaborate to develop the vaccines, and they did that very successfully. But then each of us has a simple role to play by just putting a mask on our face to protect the most vulnerable people in our society who are not able, for whatever reason, to get the vaccine. And somehow we just can’t pull ourselves together to do it. That definitely gives me pause.
Each of us knows someone who’s been affected by COVID. We may even know people —I do—who were very sick. We may even know people who COVID took their lives. And we may know people who are unable to be vaccinated, especially if we have children or know people who cannot be vaccinated for certain health reasons. And so just to protect them, just to love our neighbor—simply to love our neighbor—can we not wear a mask? And to see so many people who call themselves Christians display such lack of love for their neighbors is just heart-breaking. Sorry, I’m getting a little personal here, just as a Christian speaking.
TM: I was about to ask. You’re an evangelical Christian, right?
KH: Yeah, it’s discouraging. There’s a verse in the book of James that says, “For anyone who hears that word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at himself in the mirror and then goes away and forgets who he is.” I just feel like so many have lost their way and forgotten who they are. They’ve forgotten that they are loving, caring people. They’ve forgotten that they are parents and grandparents. They’ve forgotten that we’re all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And that’s what climate change is about, too.
When I give talks on climate change to Christian audiences, as I often do, my title is “Loving Your Global Neighbor.” That’s what my title is because that’s what climate action is. Climate change disproportionately affects the most marginalized and poorest and vulnerable people right here in Texas, as well as on the other side of the world. And if we truly believe that we are called to love others, as God loved us, then that includes caring for their physical needs. And I truly believe it’s an expression of God’s love, and it’s an expression of who God has made us to be.
TM: That seems like a way around the tree-hugger epithet.
KH: It’s not about saving the planet. The planet will survive. The planet will be orbiting the sun long after we’re gone. It’s about saving us.
Our civilization is built on the assumption of a relatively stable climate. Of course, we have hot and dry. We have cold and we have wet. And here in Texas, we have more of all of that than anyone else. But over climate timescales, which is the average of weather over at least twenty to thirty years, our climate has been relatively stable, stable enough for us to build two thirds of the world’s largest cities within just a few feet of sea level. Stable enough for us to parcel out our agricultural land so that multiple generations could grow the same crops on that land. Whereas now we’re seeing, of course, many crops, and trees, and plants, and animal and bird and insect species shifting poleward. It was stable enough to allocate our water resources and draw our geopolitical boundaries. But now we have a society that is entirely built on the assumption of a relatively stable climate, and climate is changing faster now than at any time in the history of human civilization. That’s why it matters to us.
TM: You live in Lubbock, which is probably one of the most conservative cities in Texas. When you look around your community, do you see an awareness of the truly frightening realities in this report?
KH: Here’s the interesting thing: I’ve been here for fifteen years and when I first came, I met a lot of people who were very curious, because they hear a lot about climate change, and they know that there’re conflicting opinions in the media—not in the scientific field, but in the media. And so there were a lot more people here who, as soon as they realized that I wouldn’t whip out one of those thousand-page IPCC reports and start hitting them on the head with it, they were very curious. And in fact, the whole reason why I do so much communication today is when I first moved to Lubbock, so many people and groups and organizations sought me out and said, “Hey, we’re not so sure about this whole thing, but we have a lot of questions. Could we talk?”
Back then, though, we would have been hard-pressed no matter who we are, where we lived—unless we lived up in the Arctic—to put our finger on a way that climate change was specifically affecting us. But today, fifteen years on, everybody I talk to—even the most hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, most politically conservative people—everybody has a story about how things are changing. How things are not the same as when they were young. A cotton producer emailed me. He says, “I haven’t had a decent year since 2005.” Another man who would say climate change isn’t real, said, “I grew up going fishing here with my dad. And now when I go there, there’s algae all over the place and there’s no fish and things are just completely different.”
I was standing in line to pick up my son at Sunday school a couple of years ago. And the guy in front of me, who was picking up his child, he just turned to me as we were waiting. He said, “Is the weather getting weirder?” He just sort of opened with that. So I said, “Yes. I have looked at it, and the weather is indeed getting weirder. Heavy rain is getting more intense, droughts are getting stronger, extreme heat is getting more frequent.” And he said, “I knew it.” He said, “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I can see it happening.”
During the Syrian refugee crisis, I think there was something like ultimately about two million refugees outside the country and more than ten million inside the country. Well, that would be just a drop in the bucket compared to the number of refugees that we’d be seeing. We’d be seeing hundreds of millions of refugees as sea level permanently inundates the largest cities in the world; as stronger droughts and more damaging storms and devastating heat waves wipe out crops and dry up water supplies. It’s not a world that I would ever want my child to have to cope with. We take for granted the access to basic resources that many people in other parts of the world don’t have access to. Well, I don’t think we could guarantee that for our children if we don’t fix climate change. I mean literally: if we don’t fix climate change, it will fix us.
TM: When you look at Texas and you see the renewable energy sources now powering an increasing percentage of our grid, do you see cause for hope?
KH: Yes and no. And here’s why. So often people see the [energy] issue as a giant boulder sitting at the bottom of a steep hill with only a few hands trying to roll that boulder up the hill. But the reality is, the boulder’s already at the top of the hill and it’s rolling down in the right direction. And it has millions of hands on it. Texas leads the U.S. in wind energy production. During COVID last year around the world, according to the International Energy Agency, ninety percent of new electricity installed was clean energy. So changes are happening, and I think that does give me hope because we’re heading in the right direction. The “but” is we’re not doing it fast enough. We have to scale it up. We have to be doing it ten times faster if we want to avoid the most serious and dangerous impacts of climate change, which, like I said, have Texas right in their crosshairs.
TM: But as humans, I think it’s been established that we have a hard time processing and responding to abstract threats. I can’t help but think about the parallels with COVID-19. You could argue we’ve collectively failed to prevent hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths. And that makes me worry about our ability, at least in this country, to act collectively to prevent some of the worst scenarios in this report. Does that give you pause?
How Will Global Warming Impact Texas Climate?
With hotter weather comes greater frequency of extreme weather
By Fares Sabawi, Digital Journalist
August 11, 2021
August 11, 2021
SAN ANTONIO – A new major climate report from an international group of scientists holds a grim conclusion — the global temperature is warming fast and the effects can be catastrophic.
The findings were part of a 3,500-page assessment released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of more than 230 scientists from more than 60 countries.
It was the IPCC’s first report since 2014. Technology has progressed since then, allowing for more precise climate modeling and more confidence in the forecast.
The report shows that temperatures will be 1.5-degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial (1850-1900) levels by 2040. That’s faster than previously estimated and faster than the rate that temperatures have risen in the last century.
The result is an increased likelihood of extreme weather events across the world, including in Texas.
In an interview with KSAT, Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said that, in some cases, the effects of global warming could be even more extreme in Texas.
For instance, temperatures will heat up faster in Texas than the global average, said Nielsen-Gammon, who is also a meteorology and climatology professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.
“Land heats up faster than the oceans do,” he said.
In Texas, that means average temperatures could increase by up to four degrees Farenheit by 2040. The heat will be felt most in the summer.
“Every couple of degrees of warming basically doubles the number of 100-degree days we experience,” he said. “So that’s doubled already, it’s going to double again and unfortunately probably keep doubling for a while.”
Another big concern for Texans as temperatures heat up is the frequency of extreme rainfall and flooding.
That’s evident by past natural disasters, like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the Wimberley flood of 2015.
Nielsen-Gammon’s research shows that extreme rainfall events in Texas have increased by up to 15% over the past century.
“We’ve seen that impact lots of places in Texas already, and the places that haven’t seen an impact from that have been lucky so far, but it’ll be coming for them too,” he said.
The impacts global warming will have throughout the United States (KSAT) Action is required both on a personal level and a governmental level to begin cutting down on carbon emissions, and every bit helps, he said.
“People like to talk about a deadlines for action because that’s a motivating factor, but there really is no deadline for climate change,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Every little bit that we do is reducing the worst possible impacts, and the more we do along those lines, the sooner, the better off we are no matter when that happens.”
As part of his job, Nielsen-Gammon will present findings to policymakers in Texas. What he tries to impress upon them is to consider the long-term impacts of global warming.
“Things that we do now (to combat climate change) are going to help us somewhat, but it’s mainly going to have an impact on our children and grandchildren,” he said.
One avenue could be government-backed programs that incentivize companies to reduce pollution, waste and energy usage.
“We’ve got companies that are acting to benefit their shareholders over a six-month period, the incentives really aren’t set up (to benefit the environment),” he said.
Paul Adams, Ph. D.
June 4, 2019
June 4, 2019
"Like it or not communication is a part of conservation." Paul Adams, a professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at The University of Texas at Austin, has been talking to farmers in the Panhandle and West Texas the past eight months.
I’m spending the night in the small town of Muleshoe, Texas, in the Llano Estacado, a region west of Lubbock and Amarillo. I’m interviewing farmers to hear how they talk about the environment where they live and work, the terms and phrases they use, the stories they tell.
The Llano Estacado is an extraordinarily flat place and is so dry that most of the farms depend on irrigation to supplement the sporadic and unpredictable rain and snowfall. I’m interested in how people in this part of the state think and talk about water, in particular, because our stored water will run out within a few decades at the current rate of consumption. Just when this will happen in any particular place depends on ups and downs of a layer of sand and gravel buried far below the flat surface of West Texas and the Panhandle.
San Antonio To Be The First Texas City To Try Out Cooler Pavement To Combat Warm Temperatures
City hopes pavement topper is answer to combating urban heat island effect.
The lack of tree canopy or greenery, and heat-retaining materials like concrete walls and asphalt can result in much warmer temperatures in urban areas.
It’s called the urban heat island effect. It leads to significantly warmer temperatures in the city during the summer months. It’s a problem the City of San Antonio is aware of and attempting to find ways to combat.
“What’s important about the urban heat island is that heat is absorbed all throughout the day,” said Murray Myers, the municipal sustainability
manager for San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability. “It’s supposed to cool down at night, and it doesn’t because all that heat is then released back into the neighborhoods.”
According to a UTSA study on urban heat islands, San Antonio, specifically the city’s east and west sides, can be anywhere from 10-20 degrees warmer in the summer compared to nearby rural areas.
The following images were taken from UTSA’s Heat Vulnerability Assessment Tool. They show the average monthly surface temperature in August 2019:
“You’ll see how places like Olmos Park, the older tree canopy and river/trail in King William and the forested area Northwest of Kelly Field are cooler than the paved surfaces in the same area,” Myers said. “Within the city, there are pockets of green space where the surface temperatures are at least 15 degrees cooler, and that correlates with an ambient air temperature decrease in those areas.”
“As we collect more data from the surrounding counties, we’ll be able to provide a more definitive answer on the temperature decrease between San Antonio’s core and the surrounding rural areas.”
It’s why San Antonio is leading the charge in Texas, being the first city in the state to test out cooler pavement.
It’s basically a pavement topper by the company GuardTop that has been shown to fight the urban heat island effect and not retain as much heat as asphalt or concrete.
“In this situation, it’s a seal coat,” Myers said. “It has a couple of different materials to make it more reflective, a little bit lighter that way the sunlight isn’t absorbed into the pavement.”
Myers said the cooler pavement was given to the city as a sample.
The University of Texas at San Antonio and the city will conduct a study on the small applied area near the Hays Street Bridge over the next several months.
If proven successful, the city will invest in the material to start applying it to the most impacted neighborhoods, possibly by next fall.
Studies in other cities have shown it does work, and Los Angeles and Phoenix are already using the cool pavement.
Arizona State University conducted a study in Phoenix in 2020 that showed cool pavement had an average surface temperature 10.5 to 12 degrees lower than traditional asphalt at noon and during the afternoon hours.
Sub-surface temperatures averaged 4.8 degrees lower in areas treated with the cool pavement. Nighttime air temperature at 6 feet high was on average 0.5 degrees lower over cool pavement than on the non-treated surfaces.
”If we locate or strategize our resources into the hotspots, then we can lower those temperatures and then tackle the next neighborhoods,” Myers said.
He said this is just one tool in the toolbox when it comes to combatting warming temperatures in the city, and planting more trees also plays a big role.