Rick Perry, the Republican Governor of Texas and one of the country’s most prominent and outspoken climate change deniers, renewed a proclamation this past week declaring a drought emergency in over 200 counties throughout the state. The original declaration came on July 5, 2011. It suspended “all rules and regulations that may inhibit or prevent prompt response to this threat” as long as the disaster declaration remained in effect, and authorized “all necessary measures” to assist in responding.
“Record high temperatures, preceded by significantly low rainfall, have resulted in declining reservoir and aquifer levels, threatening water supplies and delivery systems in many parts of the state,” the proclamation states. “Prolonged dry conditions continue to increase the threat of wildfire across many portions of the state; and… these drought conditions have reached historic levels and continue to pose an imminent threat to public health, property and the economy.”
What’s striking about this frank admission of the way extreme weather is ravaging Texas is that it stands alongside Perry’s ongoing dogged refusal — backed by many of the state’s other Republicans — to acknowledge the science that links these weather shifts to climate change and human-driven global warming.
In the last few years, Perry has called the data on Global warming “doctored,” claimed the “so-called science” has been “hijacked by the political left,” and said “it’s all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.”All the while, Texas is laboring under the third-worst drought to hit the state since record keeping began in 1895 — and that’s after enduring a series of droughts in the 2000s. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 95.24 percent of Texas’ area is in a category of dryness ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought” — the latter being the most severe level. In May it was 98.55 percent, in September it was 90.87 percent, and last April it was 81.40 percent.
The heat and lack of precipitation has hit the state’s rice farmers and beef production industries especially hard. On top of that, Texas just lost a Supreme Court fight with Oklahoma over water rights, and has allocated $5 million for another water-based legal dispute with New Mexico. All told, the drought is costing Texas something on the level of 115,000 jobs and $11.9 billion in losses to its economy every year the dryness continues. All of which makes Perry’s blithe disregard for climate change’s potential to permanently remake rainfall patterns in his state especially disturbing.
Mercifully, it isn’t all entirely bad news. After a long tussle that concluded in May, the state legislature passed, and Perry signed into law, a bill authorizing $2 billion to start a revolving fund to invest in local and regional water projects aimed at meeting Texas’ long-term water needs. The measure is ultimately contingent on voter approval, which will be decided in November.
Unfortunately, the Texas Water Development Board estimates that, if business as usual remains unchanged, the state will be short 8.3 million acre-feet of water by 2060. (Three acre-feet is roughly equivalent to one million gallons.) And even if it passes, it’s not at all clear the ambitions of the water fund match the scale of Texas’ future water challenges.
It’s certainly good to see Perry and other Texas lawmakers moving to address their state’s challenges with concrete policies and investment. But it would certainly help if they actually came to grips with the climate change that’s going to keep making droughts drier, hotter, and longer with every passing decade.