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Climate Chronicles: Texas Betrayal



I lived in The Woodlands, Texas (just north of Houston) from December 2014 through April 2023 and experienced firsthand some of the most severe weather events Texas has had in its recent history.


I’m also a writer of climate thriller novels and in my research, I kept coming across two consistent themes. The more we emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere the more we are heating the planet. This is not new news to most people. It’s what scientists have been telling us for decades. But the second is how key Texas leaders not only do not recognize climate change but are doing everything they can to block efforts to reduce the impact of heat, with deadly economic and health consequences.


The thing about Texas is it leads the nation in wind-generated electricity. It has a vibrant educational system with leading universities that spur innovation and prosperity. It should be a key part of our climate solution set. But with the abdication of climate science by key Texas leaders, these valuable resources have been blunted in the fight to stop the deadly heat waves impacting Texas and the world. This leadership behavior was perplexing to me. So I dug further. This is what I found out.


CO2 Emissions and Heat


· Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry were 37.12 billion metric tons (GtCO₂) in 2021. Emissions are projected to have risen 0.9 percent in 2022 to 37.5 GtCO₂ - their highest level ever.1


· Since 1970, the Earth’s temperature has spiked faster than in any comparable forty-year period in recorded history. The eight years between 2015 and 2022 were the hottest on record.2


· NASA reported July 13, 2023, that last month marked the hottest June on record for the planet.3 USA Today reported that scientists declared July 2023 the hottest on record and maybe since 120,00 years ago.4


· In 2020, Texas led the nation in carbon dioxide emissions at 624 million metric tons making Texas the eighth largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world.5


· The average daily high temperatures in Texas have increased by 2.4 degrees — 0.8 degrees per decade — since 1993.6


· Research led by Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon states the number of 100-degree days in Texas has doubled in the last 40 years and will likely double again by 2036.7



Impact of Climate Change on Texas


· From sea level rise and hurricanes to extreme heat, Texas is one of the most threatened states in the U.S. when it comes to the impacts of climate change. It ranked first in the number of billion-dollar disasters per year since 20018


· 2020 analysis by ProPublica and The New York Times of America’s 3,000 counties revealed that, of the 135 counties deemed most at risk from a changing climate, 24 are in Texas including Harris County, the third most populous county in the United States.8


· Texas leads the nation in summertime electricity disconnections, heat-related work deaths, and infant and toddler deaths in hot cars.9


· In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 60 inches of rain on some of its suburbs and inflicted $125 billion in damage on surrounding Harris County (Houston).8


· In 2021 the deep freeze in Texas killed 246, 10 million people in Harris County (Houston) lost power and 2/3 lost water for over two days. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) 25 million people in the state lost power.10


· The Texas deep freeze in February 2021 exposed the inability of the state’s energy supply chain to withstand extremely cold temperatures. Nearly two years later, questions remain if the electrical grid is more resilient to winter weather. Grid reliability increasingly hinges on an aging collection of coal and gas plants which are proving less reliable in both extreme cold and heat.11


· Texas is likely to have the steepest labor productivity penalty from warmer temperatures of any state, with up to a 1.1% drop by 2020-2039 and up to a 1.7% drop in the following 20 years. If the government and private sector act now to reduce emissions, the U.S. can considerably reduce the odds of costly climate outcomes. This is not a problem for another day.12


· Corn and soy production is more sensitive to heat than drought, and it will decrease for every degree of warming. By mid-century, parts of Texas and Oklahoma may see yields drop by more than 70%.13


· Texas has the largest number of beef cattle and the second largest number of dairy cattle in the US. Ideal conditions for beef and dairy cattle include a temperature range between 41° and 77°. Temperatures higher begin to cause heat stress in cattle which in turn causes a reduction in feed intake, weight gains, milk production and breeding efficiency. Heat stress can even result in greater calf mortality and increased veterinary costs.14


· The summer of 2023 has life-threatening heat for ranch and agricultural workers and is threatening livestock and crops. Commissioner Sid Miller, from the Texas Department of Agriculture, told Newsweek that the heat is “devastating our crops.”15


One would think given this dire information Texas elected officials, both Federal and State, would make as many provisions as possible to curb emissions and prepare for the upcoming impact of Texas heat on the economic and physical health of its citizens.


Instead, the most powerful political leaders in Texas have not only denied climate change but have blocked actions at mitigating carbon dioxide emissions and actively put in place laws that will accelerate heat rise and its severe impact on Texans. Here’s the information.


Political Response


1. In 2023, Gov. Abbott vetoed SB 2453, a bill allowing the state to adopt strong energy efficiency standards for new buildings. The measure would have allowed the state to move forward with new codes that would have cut energy demand from new homes, as well as adopting advanced codes for new university and state-funded buildings, reducing strain on the electric grid. The bill had widespread support from the Texas Association of Builders, the Texas Chemical Council, the Sierra Club, and the US Green Building Council among others.16


2. The new Chapter 313 program is designed to lure new businesses to Texas or incentivize expansions of existing businesses by giving them an abatement to school property taxes. Both Senate and House proposals excluded renewable energy projects and the Senate plan excludes battery storage projects as well. The Senate bill also includes a requirement that the companies are not allowed to participate if they have been identified by the state comptroller as being detrimental to Texas values and business because of their ESG policies.17


3. Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 505 into law establishing a $400 fee to register an electric vehicle in Texas — in addition to a $200 annual fee. That’s in addition to annual Texas vehicle registration fees, which cost $50.75 for most passenger vehicles/trucks. In total, a new EV owner could pay over $650 the first year. The law takes effect September 1. 2023.18


4. Senate Bill 833 is expected to have the governor’s approval. It would ban insurance companies doing business in Texas from charging higher rates solely based on how a company is rated by ESG criteria.19


5. Senate Bill 1860 is awaiting approval by the governor. This would require cities to get permission from the Legislature before approving changes to their charters that purport to address climate change.19


6. Senate Bill 1017 will block cities from adopting ordinances that prohibit engines based on their fuel source starting Sept. 1, 202319


7. In April of 2023, the Texas Senate unanimously approved SB1114 a bill that would prohibit local governments from banning products that increase greenhouse gas emissions.19


8. On Friday, April 15, 2016, in an interview on CNBC, Senator Cruz called global warming a religion, not science. In remarks to the oil industry in 2021 Senator John Cornyn called renewal energy a cult.20


9. Senator Ted Cruz and his Senate Commerce Committee GOP colleagues are leading a new charge to roll back climate funding in Biden’s proposed 2024 budget. Agencies potentially impacted are NASA, NOAA, NIST, and the NSF.21


Conclusions


For me, climate change and the heat it is bringing is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s one of economic and personal health impacting the lives of all of us, lives that our leaders are dutybound to safeguard. In Texas, this is not happening. In fact, despite overwhelming evidence, key political leaders are doing the opposite, standing as firm obstacles to curbing life-threatening heat and increasing the chances of economic and physical harm to those they swore to preserve and protect. Is this not insanity? Don’t we deserve better than this?


I also wonder what the impacts are on our young people when they see elected officials deliberately promoting deceptive and false narratives that help advance severe economic and health hardships for the people they are supposed to protect. Does this strengthen our democracy? Does it build trust in our government? Does it bring us together as a nation to fight the greatest challenge of our generation?


The people of Texas and the nation will no longer tolerate such denial for self-serving behavior when the full impact of climate change and the heat it brings impact them. I hope it will still be possible to preserve the lives we know and enjoy now. As Jeff Goodell states in his book, The Heat Will Kill You First, “Extreme heat is a force beyond anything we have reckoned with before. All living things share one simple fate: if the temperature they’re used to—what scientists sometimes call their Goldilocks Zone—rises too far, too fast, they die.”



Endnotes


1. Annual global emissions of carbon dioxide 1940-2022; Published by Ian Tiseo, in Statista, May 8, 2023


2. The Heat Will Kill You First, by Jeff Goodell, Little, Brown and Company, 2023, page 27


3. Southwest heat wave simmering since spring will expand to cover much of U.S., by Dennis Romero, July 23, 2023, 8:44 PM PDT, NBC News


4. Global Boiling has arrived: July temps to smash records, maybe 120,000-year-old ones, by Doyle Rice, USA Today, July 27, 2023 (Online version)


5. Rankings: Total Carbon Dioxide Emissions, US Energy Information Agency, 2021


6. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, Climate at a Glance: Statewide Time Series, published July 2023)


7. Extreme Weather in Texas 1900-2036 by John Nielsen-Gammon, Sara Holman, Austin Buley, and Savannah Jorgensen; October 7, 2021)


8. While Texas Heats Up, Its Climate Denying Politicians Seek Federal Help by Eugene Linden, June 29, 2023, Time Magazine (Online Edition)

9. Hostage to Heat by Jeremy Schwartz and Andrea Ball; GateHouse Texas; USA Today, Gannett Co. 2019

10. Remembering Houston’s Deep Freeze of 2021, by Shelby Stewart, Winter 2022, Houstonia Magazine


11. Texas Electrical Grid Remains Vulnerable to Extreme Weather Events, by Garrett Golding, January 24, 2023, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas


12. Southeast Report: Come Heat and High Water: Climate Risk in the Southeastern U.S. and Texas; Risky Business Project; 2023


13. New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States, by Al Shaw, Abraham Lustgarten, of ProPublica and Jeremey Goldsmith, Special to ProPublica, September, 15, 2020


14. Mitigating Heat Stress in Cattle, by Sid Brantly, Grazing Land Specialist, Kentucky NRCS, Working Trees, a publication of USDA in partnership with the US Forestry Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, May 2013


15. Texas Heat Waves Put Crops and Cattle at Risk, by Giulia Carbonaro, Newsweek, 7/26/23 at 6:33 AM EDT


16. KXAN News website Austin TX 5/20/2023


17. Texas Senate passes new economic incentive program to lure businesses to the state, by Karen Brooks Harper, May 24, 2023, Texas Tribune


18. Texas to charge EV owners $400 to register vehicles, $200 every year, by Russell Falcon, May 20, 2023, WFXR, Fox News


19. Climate proposals withered at the Texas Capitol this year, by Erin Douglas, Emily Foxhall, and Alejandra Martinez, June 2, 2023, Texas Tribune


20. In remarks to the oil industry, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas calls renewable energy a ‘cult’,

By Sanford Nowlin on Mon, Jun 7, 2021, at 11:14 am San Antonio Current


21. Republicans Move to Gut Climate Funding Amid Heatwaves, Floods, and Smog Storms; Ted Cruz and his Republican colleagues want to defund efforts to stop climate change, even as their constituents suffer, by Prem Thakker, July 13, 2023, The New Republic


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