Post Harvey, environment academics talk about future of Texas resources

The population in Texas is expected to nearly double by 2070, and the state is also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  Because of this confluence of  threats (dense population and inherent exposure to a number of types of natural disasters that include, but are not limited to drought, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires), we are looking at a not so excellent future for a state with already strained resources.  It is important that the state look at mitigating the negative effects of population growth and climate change.

On November 29th, academicians, urban planning and environment experts discussed the future of Texas through the research initiative Planet Texas 2050  as part of the Environmental Science Institute’s 110th Hot Science Cool Talks. Panelists included UT mechanical engineering professor Michael Webber, urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter and leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers are tasked with planning for the sustainability of Texas and include faculty and staff researchers from UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, Environmental Science Institute, College of Liberal Arts and more.

According to the Environmental Science Institute director Jay Banner, global warming is creating more frequent and intense natural disasters such as droughts and hurricanes. Coupled with a quickly rising population, the impacts could affect many aspects of Texan life including health, the economy and even our supply of barbecue.

Webber said he believes we can view natural disasters and a rising population as an opportunity to not only become more sustainable, but also to get rich doing it through properly managing and profiting off of Texas’ large supply of renewable energy resources.

Webber added that while Texas needs to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, which worsen the effects of climate change, people can utilize wind energy and experiment with more sustainable technologies. He said moving away from using automobiles, which are a large contributor of greenhouse gases, is a great step to take.

Looking at the destructive nature of Hurricane Harvey, he went on to suggest a silver lining.  “Let’s not replace all 500,000 cars that were wiped out by Hurricane Harvey,” Webber said. “Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past but use these challenges to get better.”

Hayhoe also said moving away from our old ways is important in preparing for the future.

“The future is different, so trying to invest in coal today is like trying to invest in a horse buggy,” Hayhoe said.

Hayhoe pointed out that Texas pays the most out of all U.S. states on events like hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and many other natural threats.

The panelists were overall optimistic for the future of Texas while still emphasizing the intensity of the challenges ahead.  Public support for the findings of these experts will go a long way to ensuring our elected officials take note and lead us into a more sustainable future.