Home to 29 million residents spread out over 269 thousand square miles with 367 miles of diverse coastline, Texas is the second largest state in the country in both population and land area. Although many think of Texas as desert and prairie land, in reality the state is extremely diverse in its ecoregions. There are pine and oak woods in the east, marshes along the gulf coast, savannahs, prairies, and plains in the middle, hills in the western interior, and desert in the west.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and the costs of climate change are no exception. Out of 300-billion-dollar climate change-exacerbated extreme weather events like storms, cyclones, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and winter storms affecting the United States between 1980-2021, Texas had 134 of them, more than any other state by far.
How extreme are those storms? Already in May 2015, the amount of water that fell on Texas could have supplied the world’s drinking water for 27 years. And as the extreme rainfall has become more frequent and severe, scientists are estimating an additional 2-3% increase by 2036. Some parts of Texas are more affected than others, with McAllen, Texas experiencing a 700% increase in heavy downpours since the 1950s and Houston seeing a 167% rise in heavy downpours since the 1950s. Urban flooding will continue to get worse as projections go as high as 15% more flooding than had occurred between 2000 and 2018. Sea level rise (18 inches since 1950!) is only accelerating the storm risk, the severity of coastal flooding, beach erosion, and the submerging of both wetlands and dry land.
Hurricanes are a good-news-bad-news situation. On one hand, the frequency of hurricanes is expected to level off or even decrease. On the other hand, their intensity is expected to skyrocket. Look here for an overview of 2020 and 2021.
Although Texas has seen almost biblical-style storms, flooding and precipitation the state has simultaneously gotten drier and warmer, with the number of 100-degree days doubling over the past 40 years and estimated to double again by 2036. In fact, Texas’ future climate projections indicate drier summers and decreasing water supplies for the remainder of the 21st century.
Besides hurting Texas’ people and ecosystems, climate change will also have devastating effects on the state’s economy, particularly agriculture. As the state gets drier, there will be less water for irrigation, leading to a reduction in the crops that Texas will be able to grow and sell. During the 2011 drought in Texas, for example, rice in Matagorda County shrunk from 22,000 acres to 2,100 acres in one year after authorities were forced to cut off the flow of irrigation water from the Colorado River. Statewide, that drought shaved $7.6 billion off the agriculture economy.
As of now, Texas has not developed a statewide plan to combat climate change despite the fact that they are the #1 energy consumer in the country. However, four of the five largest cities have adopted climate action plans, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and there is, as of 2017, a coastal resiliency plan. Regional plans focus on a variety of climate issues, ranging from fuel efficiency to the protection of local ecosystems and climate justice. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has also taken action, first adopting rules for the state’s renewable energy mandate in 1999 and amending them in 2005 to require that 5,880 megawatts, or about 5% of the state’s electricity generating capacity, come from renewable sources by 2015 and 10,000 megawatts of renewable capacity by 2025, including 500 megawatts from resources other than wind. Texas surpassed their 2025 goal already in 2009, predominantly because of the generating capacity provided by the state’s wind farms. Their 150+ wind farms make them the #1 renewable energy generator in the country.
Texas suffered profoundly in the winter of 2020/2021 with devastating blackouts as the freezing weather collapsed their grid. Up to 700 people died and millions of Texans were left without power for days on end. The whole event cost ratepayers $47 billion which customers will be paying off for decades. The Houston Chronicle published a list of expert solutions to fix the power grid in May, 2021. A study, released in July, 2021 summed up its recommendations with, “The next crisis may very well be crippling summer heat so preparing to avoid the next freeze won’t deal with the broader problem that our climate is changing and our infrastructure is designed for the 1960s, not the 2060s.” Another study, called Truth and Lies, released in August, took a serious look at the disinformation campaign which sought to lay the blame for the freeze on wind. It couldn’t be more fascinating.