How Texas Politicians Are Ignoring The Climate Change That Could Hurt Their State’s Economy

CREDIT: AP Photo / Harry Cabluck

Texas outgoing Republican Governor Rick Perry (right) and its incoming Republican Governor Greg Abbott (left).

A sizable portion of Texas politicians may not be interested in climate change — but climate change is interested in them.

According to a Wednesday roundup of stories in the Dallas Observer, the state’s water supplies are continuing to dwindle, threatening “devastating” consequences for agriculture and a host of other industries in the state. Whole towns in Texas have run out of water as long-running droughts continue to punish the state, with the Texas Tribune dryly noting that “most climate scientists here believe the higher temperatures are part of a long-term global trend and that humans are partly to blame.”

Also on Wednesday, Public Radio International (PRI) laid out how the international shipping port in Houston — one of the busiest in the world — could suffer “hundreds of billions of dollars in damage” if a big enough storm hit at the right time. That, too, is a threat exacerbated by climate change.

All these industries — shipping, agriculture, and more — are part of the relatively impressive economic growth Texas has seen in aftermath of the 2008 recession. But the state’s sprawl, its car culture, and its overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels has also made it far and away the country’s biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change has concluded with 95 percent certainty that most of the global warming observed since the 1950s was caused by human activity. (For context, 95 percent is the same certainty scientists ascribe to the conclusion that cigarettes can kill you.)

But few people in Texas’ state government seem to care that the state’s carbon emissions could contribute to climate upheaval, which may in turn undo its economic growth. Both of Texas’ Senators and 16 of its 36 Representatives in the House are on record denying the science of climate change. Outgoing Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) has said the “so-called science” on global warming is “doctored” and a “contrived phony mess” that’s been “hijacked by the political left.” Incoming Governor Greg Abbott (R) has not been as explicit regarding his views on climate change, but he has sued the Environmental Protection Agency multiple times over, including a lawsuit aimed at the agency’s latest effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

“Climate change is associated with a liberal agenda that most Republicans are initially going to reject,” Kip Averitt, a former Republican state senator in Texas, told PRI. As the outlet put it, the idea that human activity is a major influence on climate change is treated with “scorn and derision among Texas’s top politicians.”

The dwindling water supplies have hit the state’s beef and rice industries especially hard, and have also driven Texas into legal confrontations with both New Mexico and Oklahoma over water rights to major rivers. Estimates suggest Texas is losing something like 115,000 jobs and $11.9 billion from its economy every year the droughts continue.

At the same time, hydraulic fracturing is sucking up a noticeable portion of the state’s water supplies, even as everyday Texans are forced to ration. In at least one town — Denton, Texas — residents have responded by banning the practice within the city limits.

Texas has created a revolving water fund to upgrade infrastructure and to try to deal with dryness, but even with that policy in effect the state’s future is far from certain. The latest National Climate Assessment concluded that the number of annual days in Texas over 100ºF could almost quadruple by mid-century if humanity’s carbon emissions continue on their present course, and that Texas and Oklahoma will see further and significant increases in drought.

The result of all this is a strange public and political conversation in Texas — mirrored in other states across the country — in which the effects of climate change are increasingly acknowledged, but the crucial link to humanity’s GHG emissions is studiously ignored. “When we talk about drought, that’s something everybody understands,” Averitt continued. “They see their water supplies drying out and they see the farmlands going to waste.”

“Oh, by the way,” he said, “that means we have to reduce greenhouse gases. We don’t mention that.”