In the Book of Matthew Chapter 24 Verse 7, Jesus spoke of the end days to his disciples saying, “There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” It is uncertain if he was specifically talking about the lingering Texas drought or the unnatural ground shaking in North Texas, but either way, we have now seen this come to pass.
This week, Gov. Abbott lost in court to the EPA over the Clean Air Act, again. The Court of Appeals decision noted that the, “EPA’s thorough treatment of all available data indicates that it in fact surpassed its obligation of reasoned decision making.” We shouldn’t be surprised that someone found our state leaders fighting to allow increased levels of pollution to be unreasonable.
Scientists with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are now studying how much oil and gas field “leakage” is causing air pollution in Texas. Dr. Joost de Gouw told StateImpact, “There are a lot of factors that make one field leak more than another, like exactly what is being pumped from the ground, the techniques and equipment used, and the strength or weakness of regulation in the state where it’s all going on.”
The GOP rhetoric of fighting the “over reach” by the EPA and the Obama administration over “job killing” regulation has been a powerful elixir for charging up the citizenry of our energy state. Even though no one really wants to smell toxic air, it less immediately devastating than say, a flash flood or a hurricane. Unfortunately, the visceral nature of the latter may be the only way Texans begin to hold our leaders accountable for the effects of climate change.
A report by the Texas Climate Initiative says that avoiding catastrophic results of climate change will require approaching “climate change as a risk management problem,” and that policymakers, “need to consider what measures can be taken now to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and destructive changes in natural ecosystems which are projected to be the primary drivers for future climate change.”
The denial of human impact on our environment is now becoming flat out dangerous. Take Texas’ extreme drought conditions for example. They are only being curtailed by torrential rainfall and paralyzing floods across the state which has caused bridges and dams to collapse while our state’s top politicians continue to deny the necessity of preparing and preventing further tragedies.
Ted Cruz (whose received nearly $1 million from the oil and gas industry) asked the federal government for disaster relief funds, but refused to even comment on whether climate change was a factor, saying it wasn’t a good time while people are suffering. But, with increasingly extreme weather, will it ever be a good time? Politically speaking for the GOP, the answer is no.
It is unclear how long Texans will remain complacent at the ballot box, but as more residents become victims of violent weather, I suspect they will require better answers to climate change than the old trope about liberals wanting to kill jobs with excessive regulations. Truthfully, that was always a bad line that Democrats seemed to let go unchallenged. If it is true that necessity is the mother of invention, then preventing the exacerbation of climate change would in itself be an enormous job creator.
The home in the image above was the only one remaining after Hurricane Ike had it’s way with the shoreline of Gilchrist, Texas. According to a 2008 report by CNN, “many of Gilchrist’s homes were built before current building codes, and weren’t elevated or not elevated nearly as high as his.” The article also quoted Aaron Reed, a spokesman with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, saying that, “…if I were to ever build a house on the coast, I’m going to contact the guy who built this.” We still say “everything is bigger in Texas,” except now maybe for Texas itself. As the state continues to lose shoreline to the Gulf, property owners are now prevented from rebuilding as their former lots are now part of the surf and eclipsed by public beaches.
Now, it may be true that if you live near the sea you have to expect some uncomfortable interactions with Mother Nature, but coastal Texans are finding it increasingly difficult to insure their homes (apparently, insurance companies make business decisions off of facts and data, and not pure political calculations). That has left the state to pony up as the “insurer of last resort” for residents who are required to have windstorm coverage. In 2008, Ike and Dolly cost the Texas Windstorm Insurance Agency (TWIA) $2.5 billion, exposing its flawed funding system and nearly bringing the agency to its knees.
It is not as if energy is limited to fossil fuels, or even that Texas’ natural resources are limited to fossil fuels. So why then do some GOP legislators want to end the renewable goals for wind and solar set by previous lawmakers? According to a column in the Dallas Morning News, “Industry officials said the program costs $12 million to $40 million annually. For comparison, the state’s tax breaks on natural gas production topped $1 billion in 2009.” We know the answer, it is that many of our state’s elected officials have pockets lined with oil and gas money and the agency tasked with holding the industry accountable, the Texas Railroad Commission, is stacked with industry-backed candidates.
Besides, it is no longer about fighting the federal government when we’re over turning popularly supported local ordinances, like in Denton, where citizens are attempting the self-govern where the state has failed them.
(The Texas Observer did a piece last year that included 11 charts and maps that show what climate change means for Texas.)
Texas won’t solve the climate change issue by itself, but we can be leaders. One thing’s for sure, putting our heads in the sand won’t fix it, especially if that sand will just be washed away with the next big storm.