Texas is the second largest state in the country in both population and land area. Texas is home to 29 million residents spread out over 269 thousand square miles. 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 climate change is no exception. In fact, between 1980 and July of 2020, Texas spent approximately (CPI-adjusted) $657.6 billion on climate change-exacerbated extreme weather events like storms, cyclones, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and winter storms. That’s far more than any other state. Texas is also the only state to have 100+ weather disasters between 1980 and 2020, clocking in at 119 disasters while the state in second place, Alabama, trails behind at 89.
How extreme are Texas storms? In May 2015, the amount of water that fell on Texas could supply the world’s drinking water for 27 years. The extreme rainfall has become more frequent and severe as time has gone on, with scientists 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. Houston has seen a 167% rise in heavy downpours since the 1950s. An additional 2-3% increase in rainfall statewide will be devastating, especially when starting from such a high bar. Urban flooding will continue to get worse as projections go as high as 15% more flooding than had occurred between 2000 and 2018.
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. Sea level rise only accelerates the storm risk, with the Texas Gulf coast facing double the storm risk by 2020 compared with levels seen around the turn of the 19th century. Sea level is also rising faster and faster in Texas, with the rate at an inch per year as of 2017.
Although Texas has seen almost biblical-style storms, the state has simultaneously gotten drier and warmer on average. In fact, Texas’ future climate projections indicate drier summers and decreasing water supplies for the remainder of the 21st century — Texas would experience its driest conditions in the last 1,000 years.
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 in one year after authorities cut off the flow of irrigation water from the Colorado River, badly damaging the local economy. Not only were Matagorda residents unable to sell as much rice as in previous years, but the sale of farming machinery in the county’s largest town also fell by 70%. 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. However, local areas within Texas are taking action, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and the Gulf Coast region. 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 the 2025 goal in 2009, predominantly because of the generating capacity provided by the state’s wind farms.
Jobs in renewable energy, battery storage and energy efficiency grew 4 percent last year in Texas, nearly twice as fast as the overall employment rate, according to a new study. Texas now employs more people in renewable energy (254,000).