Climate Science, Change And Our Daily Lives Part 3: Recap And Exploring Potential Solutions

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

As you read this, you may want to understand where Texas stands.

Texas has not yet developed a statewide climate adaptation plan. Individual cities have, such as Austin, Dallas, Galveston, Houston and San Antonio. A coastal resiliency master plan exists, too. Check out the Texas Climate/Energy profile.

orange forest fire in the foreground, mountain in background, orange smoky sky

The Big Picture

According to the new State of the Climate in 2020 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth is in bad shape.

To capture why in simple terms, we highlight what humans have done to this good Earth we have been stewards of over the last 200 years. Essentially, we have:

  • taken billions of tons of fossil fuels out of the ground and sent as CO2 and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, upsetting the planet’s delicate energy transfer system. This has accelerated global warming and climate change in every region of our world, and

  • polluted our air and water, destroyed local ecosystems and caused weather extremes that have led to tragedies.

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, we looked at factual data on how this trend has affected our air and water. The various gloom-and-doom scenarios articulated in response to predictions do not have to be our future – if we take concentrated action now.

The Little Picture: Closer to Home

Locally, we have felt most of the effects of global warming in our water supply systems and weather extremes. In a drought less than 10 years ago, the Highland Lakes reached near record low levels caused by a persistent shortage of rainfall, lack of inflow into the lakes and continued demands of cities like Austin and rice farmers downstream from the late 2000s through 2014. The La Nina effect played a role, as well. The last time the lakes were considered to be full was 2007.

In a period like October 2010 through July 2011, the area received slightly less than 11 inches of total rainfall, 17.45 inches below average. Water flowing into the Highland Lakes was just 10% of the annual average. 2011 was Texas’ driest year on record.

In the summer of 2011, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, the two major reservoirs, were at 40% full and dropping. By the summer of 2014, they were 30% full. You can see what Lake Travis looked like in the summer of 2011 here.

As a result, many of us in the Highland Lakes lost access to daily water and folks in Austin were put on rationing. The situation reached a new level of urgency in January 2012 when wells in Spicewood Beach officially ran out of water. Some 1,100 residents had to depend on water delivered via tanker trucks to the town’s storage tank.

The drought also fueled wildfires, ruined crops and put a real strain on the state’s fragile electric grid.

In 2011, Texas suffered a year like no other when it came to wildfires. The Forest Service reported more than 4 million acres and more than 2,900 homes lost to wildfires, including 67 in Spicewood. That fire burned 6,500 acres in Burnet and Travis counties. A combination of brisk winds of 17-24 mph, high temperatures reaching 108 degrees and low humidity created a recipe for disaster, officials said – possibly sparked by power lines.

Today, officials have identified more than 14,000 communities within the state that are vulnerable to “potentially devastating fires within the wildland urban interface.” (Texas A&M Forest Service)

Air and water quality have also been a problem, as well as extreme weather events like the Big Freeze of 2021. In fact, the American Lung Association ranked Austin as the 69th most polluted city in the country.

From Problems to Solutions

On the brighter side, scientists have shared improved knowledge of climate processes, giving us useful tools to alter the trajectory of our Earth’s changing climate – individually and collectively.

What we can do Individually

Columbia Climate School offers 35 ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint; a few are below. You can use the EPA’s Carbon Footprint Calculator for your own household. (Savings are based on models.)

  • Change a light. Replace a regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent one. Savings: 150 pounds of CO2 a year.

  • Recycle more. Recycle half the stuff you throw away at your house. Savings: potentially 2,400 pounds/year.

  • Take care of your car and drive less. Walk, bike or carpool instead of driving. Savings: 1 pound/mile. Save even more: Keep your tires properly inflated, remove extra weight from inside and get a tune-up.

  • Use less hot water. Set your water heater to 120 degrees F and do laundry in cold water. Savings: 550 pounds/year.

  • Turn off electronic devices. If you’re not using them, turn them off, plug them into power strips instead of outlets and set your screens to sleep. Savings: thousands of pounds/year.

Slightly more difficult things we can do:

  • Reduce water waste. Turn off the faucet instead of letting it run and consider getting water-efficient fixtures. The EPA says if one out of every 100 homes did this, we’d avoid 80,000 tons of global warming pollution.

  • Eat all the food you buy. Wasted food decomposing in a landfill emits methane. Besides, too many people need food for us to be throwing it out.

  • Check your outlets. Use power strips instead of individual outlets to charge your devices. Set the strips, the devices and your monitors to power down after a certain length of idle time.

More difficult yet (i.e., costly) would be to:

  • Weatherize the house. Improve and replace missing insulation to seal drafts. You likely can claim federal tax credits.

  • Invest in energy-efficient appliances. - Since 1987, efficiency standards for dozens of appliances and products have kept 2.3 billion tons of CO2 out of the air.

  • Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle. Before you buy a new set of wheels, compare fuel-economy performance.

What we can do as BCDC: VOTE.

We can elect government leaders who will create or support initiatives to do collectively what we can’t do by ourselves.

As stated at the top of this post, Texas has not yet developed a statewide climate adaptation plan. Let's elect leaders who can get that done ... and question those who can't.

Nationally, the US generally emphasizes energy conservation, alternatives to fossil fuels, incentives for clean energy, etc. We need an effective federal policy to achieve deep, long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to strengthen climate resilience.

Federal policymakers have several policy tools at their disposal:

  • Government research and development programs, such as the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy.

  • Voluntary programs, like Natural Gas STAR.

  • Traditional regulations, such as vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions standards.

  • Market-based programs that put a price on carbon emissions, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program.

Others can play a role, too: the EPA, DoE, DoT and DoD. Congress (new laws) and the president (executive orders). Businesses, through a market-based approach to reduce emissions that should be a centerpiece of a comprehensive climate strategy. And we’ll need an array of innovative technologies – and, of course, a way to fund them.

Since the mid-2000s, some states have been working together to fill the void of federal leadership. This has spawned a variety of multi-state climate initiatives, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Western Climate Initiative, U.S. Climate Alliance, Transportation Climate Initiative, Pacific Coast Collaborative and the Governors Accord for a New Energy Future.

What we can do globally

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a great article on cutting emissions, removing carbon dioxide and, importantly, fighting disinformation. I encourage you to read it. They believe the Paris Agreement is the world’s best effort so far to solve climate change, though it doesn’t include the emissions reductions we need.

Europe recently proposed a new plan to move away from fossil fuels over the next decade.

Calls to action

Educate yourself about climate change using scientific sources. Ask candidates about their plans for addressing global warming. And vote!

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

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