“Texas Should Study Climate Change” (Posted By Mike Mecke)
By Jay Banner, Charles Jackson, Katharine Hayhoe, Gerald North and Liang Yang
Special to The Galveston Daily News
January 15, 2010
The natural landscape is becoming increasingly urbanized.
At the same time, our demand for water, land and other natural resources is increasing. All of these issues raise concerns about what our future may hold.
Projections of future climate can be made using computer models of the climate system that take into account both natural and human effects on our world. The models predict a much drier Texas, particularly in the western half of the state, on par with or even exceeding 10- to 30-year “megadroughts” of past centuries.
These changes carry potentially enormous implications for Texas’ agriculture, wildlife, water, infrastructure, public health, businesses and energy use.
Consequences include lower stream and lake levels, water shortages and growing competition between urban, rural and industrial users.
During the 1950s, Texas experienced a seven-year drought that was part of a larger dry spell that gripped the Great Plains and the American Southwest. As a result, 244 of the 254 counties in Texas were declared federal disaster areas.
During the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, mineral deposits — forming from water dripping deep into Texas caves — typically grew 10 to 100 times faster than they do today, indicating that Texas was a much rainier region during the last ice age.
In the more recent past, trees in central and West Texas leave a record in their rings of multiple megadroughts since the 13th century. Scientists link the rainy ice ages and megadroughts of the past to cyclical shifts in Earth’s orbit and natural cycles such as El Niño.
Our ability to predict changes in Texas’ future climate will meet continuing challenges, and there will be uncertainty about how the state should plan for the changes.
The likelihood of some effects is becoming clear, however, with improved consensus from the scientific community.
For example, projections are consistent that the American Southwest likely will become drier throughout this century, marking a transition to a new average climate for the western part of Texas similar to the drought of the 1950s.
We propose Texas needs to take three key steps in the near future to address the risks associated with future change. First, assemble the best climate change information that currently exists. Second, improve this information through further research. And lastly, identify information gaps and uncertainties, and determine how to use the best information to plan for the changes.
There is currently no coordinated effort in the state of Texas to fill these needs.
This is in contrast to the global consortium of experts that constitutes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; state-level efforts such as in California, which has a branch of its Energy Commission dedicated to quantifying climate change impacts and possible adaptation strategies; and municipal efforts such as in Chicago, which has a citywide Climate Action Plan that includes estimates of future costs.
A climate consortium for Texas could conduct the following essential functions:
• Bring together leading experts and stakeholders to determine the top concerns about how climate change could affect Texas.
• Quantify uncertainties of future changes, so the state can determine how to best plan investments for adaptation and for research to reduce uncertainty.
• Prioritize areas for new research; for example, generation of high-resolution climate projections for regions within Texas, and the response of aquifers, streams, soils, and air quality to changing climate.
• Summarize the latest scientific data for policy makers with accurate quantification of uncertainties.
• Compare the costs to Texas of acting versus the costs of not acting.
As world leaders work to build global accord on climate change, and as other states and regions are enacting their own legislation regarding greenhouse gas emissions, Texas needs to lead in determining what climate change will mean for Texans and what we should do about it.
We are fortunate to have leading researchers, planners and policy makers in our state’s institutions, agencies and businesses, and we should take advantage of these resources by bringing them together to help address this important challenge.
Banner and Yang are professors and Jackson is a research scientist, all in the Jackson School of Geosciences, and Banner is director of the Environmental Science Institute, University of Texas at Austin. Hayhoe is a research associate professor in the Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University. North is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University.
I do not see this as Al Gore-ism, but rather recognizing that climate does change – it always has – and it seems to be warming in the Southwest and elsewhere. We have had in Texas and elsewhere, many intense and short-termed droughts in the past few decades. The past decade in San Antonio was the warmest on record. The past summer set all kinds of heat records in central Texas. Worldwide, man has produced some negative effects upon air, many natural resources and weather over the past few hundred years – we can do much better for our health and for the health of our world. If you are proud of Houston’s #1 rank as the US city with the most polluted air, then open your windows on the crowded freeways and breathe deeply.
It only makes good sense to gather all the good data, historical weather trends and informed scientists together to plan wisely for our future. Since the late 90′s we have started doing just that for Texas water planning. So, why not tie water to projected weather changes and how that may affect rainfall patterns, watersheds, rivers, aquifers, food production and our growth patterns? Mike