IN A POST-WORLD War II climate of mass consumption, urban disinvestment, and the emerging dominance of the automobile as the preferred mode of transportation, Texas and its economy grew dramatically. Fleeing postindustrial urban decay and the loss of manufacturing economies, millions of Americans and immigrants flocked to the wide-open and nonunionized spaces of the southwest United States. Home to almost 25 million residents, the State of Texas ranks second only to California in population and is experiencing the largest net population growth of any state in the nation.
Driven by this continuing growth in population, diversifying economic development, persistent low-density suburban development, almost exclusive reliance on the automobile for transportation, and a warming climate, the demand for cheap and plentiful energy—and attendant emissions of greenhouse gases—is growing rapidly. Texas leads the United States in greenhouse gas emissions—40 percent of the national total—largely because of its reliance on existing coal-burning power plants.
In a recent study analyzing urban sprawl, Fort Worth/Arlington and Dallas metro areas rated 10th and 13th on the list of the nation's 83 most sprawling urban areas. Having increased by 30 percent over the past 10 years, the 2000 Environmental Protection Agency ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard report estimated that Texas vehicle miles traveled would increase between 2007 and 2030 by over 44 percent, and Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio metropolitan regions would remain in non-attainment for ground-level ozone. These urban areas are experiencing significant population growth, continuing sprawl development, and increasingly severe highway congestion that contribute significantly to their climate change effect.
The consequences for Texas of impending climate change are serious, especially given the already extreme nature of much of its regional weather.
Texas exhibits a wide variety of climates within its boundaries, from subtropical in the southeast to high desert in the north and west. Although all regions are likely to experience an increase in mean annual temperature (both daily maximums and minimums) and increasing shortages of freshwater, other challenges faced by the state from climate change differ as a function of geography. Texas's 370 mi. (595 km.) of coastline will experience higher sea levels and resulting beach erosion, saltwater infiltration, and subsidence. Increased water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico may result in more frequent and widespread algal blooms toxic to indigenous fish and plant species. Warmer ocean and Gulf waters will also contribute to the intensity, if not the frequency, of coastal storms and hurricanes.
Climate change also will result in a redistribution of rainfall across the state, significantly affecting agricultural economies and freshwater supplies available to increasingly urban populations. As it continues to drain its aquifers, Texas increasingly relies on freshwater captured in surface reservoirs. A future that is markedly warmer and drier in many regions of the state will jeopardize these supplies (as demonstrated by the drought that gripped the state in recent years). Increasing temperatures will contribute to already pronounced urban heat islands, resulting in increased frequency of heat-related illnesses and deaths, as well as in increased severity of isolated weather events, especially thunderstorms bearing isolated, flooding rains.
Agricultural and forestation patterns and productivity, staples of regional and state economies, will be disrupted not only by the changes in rainfall, increased uncertainty in available irrigation water, and higher mean temperatures but also by a changing variety of natural weeds and pests that will migrate northward as the climate warms. Infestations of insects new to Texas crops will result in reduced crop productivity and, as farmers try to respond, a likely increase in the number and environmental toxicity of herbicides and pesticides.
Although it confronts serious climate challenges across the state, Texas is also blessed with sources of renewable energy that have only begun to be exploited. It is famous for its scorching summers and sunshine that will "peel the chrome off a trailer hitch." The largest portion of its electricity needs are generated by coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Recently, the state backed away from approving the construction of as many as 11 new coal-fired power plants and is in the process of redefining its energy policies. As technological advances reduce the price and increase the efficiency of solar energy-generation devices, Texas, especially in its western reaches, will be able to capitalize on the abundant radiant energy provided by the sun. In addition, wind-generated electricity is being produced in increasingly economical quantities by west Texas wind farms. Although a transmission infrastructure is evolving to supply the state's urban demand, Texas ranks first in wind power generation among U.S. states. It is also the country's leading producer of biodiesel transportation fuel. Its leadership role was highlighted by the success of country music icon Willie Nelson in promoting locally produced BioWillie biodiesel fuel, primarily marketed for the long-haul trucking industry.
In the absence of a meaningful climate protection policy at the federal or state levels, many Texas cities have joined municipalities in other states in a variety of nongovernmental organization-led initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints and to lobby for action on climate change and related environmental issues at both the state and federal levels. Among other actions taken by Texas municipalities, 17 Texas cities—including Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio—have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement
committing their respective cities to carbon dioxide reductions similar to those contained in the Kyoto Protocol. Both Austin and San Antonio are also members of the Cities for Climate Protection, a global campaign of local and regional entities led by the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives Local Governments for Sustainability. Through process implementation and performance monitoring, these cities are committed to a rigorous accounting and reduction of their greenhouse gas emissions.
sEE ALso: Alternative Energy, Wind; Land Use.
BIBLioGRAPHY. Reid Ewing, Rolf Pendall, and Don Chen, Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact (Smart Growth America, 2002); ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, www.iclei.org (cited September 7, 2007); Texas Department of Transportation, TxDOT has a Plan: Strategic Plan for 2007-2011, www. dot.state.tx.us (cited September 7, 2007); U.S. Conference of Mayors, Climate Protection Agreement, www.usmayors. org/climateprotection/agreement.htm; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change and Texas (1997), www.epa.gov (cited September 7, 2007).
Kent Hurst University of Texas at Arlington
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