Climate change is having a huge impact on Texas. The second-largest US state located in the south-central portion of the country is consistently ranked among the top 10 states most affected by extreme weather events, such as drought, extreme heat, and wildfires. We take a look at the major environmental issues in Texas and what the state is doing about them.
4 Environmental Problems in Texas
1. Heat waves
Like a 2021 climate report pointed out, the record-breaking heat waves that have hit Texas repeatedly over the past few decades will become a regular occurrence due to climate change, and the state’s future depends almost exclusively on mitigation and adaptation. to the climate.
Within the last century, most of Texas has warmed to an average of almost 1.5 F (0.8C), and the summers are getting longer and hotter. The most recent and still ongoing heat wave that hit the central United States and Texas in late April 2022 brought triple-digit temperatures to the southern and midwestern band of the state for several consecutive days and spreads north across the Great Plains. According to the aforementioned report, the number of three-digit days in a year will double by 2036 compared to the past 20 years, and temperatures will be three degrees warmer than they were from 1950 to 1999.
Figure 1: Temperature rise in Texas, 1895-2021
The heat wave too generated record demand for air conditioning and electricity. Nearly 45% of this is covered by renewable sources, with solar and wind energy production increasing considerably. Historically, the state typically experiences high temperatures during the summer months, however, heat waves have come earlier in recent years due to climate change.
The intense heat waves that Texas is experiencing reinforce the droughts. The Lone Star state is known for its arid climate and although droughts are a natural occurrence here, climate change and rising global temperatures have made them much more severe in recent decades, altering rainfall patterns and drying out soil moisture at a faster rate. For this reason, Texas is ranked as the state most at risk of widespread drought, with experts predicting that by 2050 he will see a increased severity of these events by nearly 75%.
Overall, experts believe that in coming years average rainfall is expected to decrease – particularly during winter, spring and summer and in 70 years the longest period without rain each year is likely to be at least three more days than it is today. This will contribute to increased evaporation and subsequent reduction in water content of rivers and streams as well as insufficient water to irrigate crops or even drinking water to meet the basic needs of Texas’ growing population. .
Figure 2: Texas Drought Monitor May 2022
The water shortage in Texas is also a big problem from an economic point of view. The state is based on three very greedy sectors – fossil fuel production, real estate development and agriculture – with nearly 60% of Texas’ water resources used for crops. Every sector is heavily impacted whenever droughts occur. The food industry is particularly vulnerable: as severe droughts damage crops and limit the growth of forage needed to raise beef cattle, the state’s supply chain will come under immense strain, putting will likely lead to a spike in food prices.
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3. Forest fires and extreme weather events
Heat waves and droughts aren’t the only issues Texas should be concerned about. Warmer temperatures and drier conditions increase the risk of wildfires and intensify weather events such as rainstorms and hurricanes.
Already in the spring of 2022, hundreds of forest fires broke out amid an intense heat wave, which has led to more than 200 counties being categorized as “crop disaster areas,” meaning their crops are expected to fail or be drastically reduced due to wildfires. Between January and May 2022, more than 400,000 acres burned, seven times as many acres as the same time last year. Water shortage fears also prompted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to impose mandatory restrictions on water use as water levels in some reservoirs fell below 20 % of their capacity.
Currently, more than 70% of the state’s population, or nearly 18 million people, live in areas with high risk of forest fires. Texas – which currently has the second highest wildfire risk in the United States after California by 2050, is should become the state most threatened by such events as global warming worsens.
While climate change is often associated with rising temperatures, scientists suggest the impact of global warming on the Arctic may cause cold snaps in the south like those Texas has experienced repeatedly in recent years. . The most recent was in the first months of 2021, when the state was hit by a blast of cold air from Canada which caused water system outages, overloaded the electrical grid and triggered widespread power outages.
Global warming has also greatly intensified the impact of hurricanes. As temperatures rise, evaporation accelerates, as does the transfer of heat from the oceans to the air. The heat and steam that storms absorb as they pass through warm waters fuel winds and precipitation, causing increasingly severe flooding. 2021 has been a ‘above average’ and the fourth costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 21 severe storms hitting Texas, seven of which became hurricanes, in addition to four other major hurricanes.
The worst event to hit Texas was Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which killed more than 100 people, caused flood water contamination resulting from a malfunctioning chemical plant and cost the state a colossal US$125 billion in damages. New search suggests the odds of slow-moving storms like Harvey occurring more frequently during Atlantic hurricane season are now higher than ever, as climate change is expected to intensify the winds that drive hurricanes north over Texas over the last 25 years of the current century.
4. Sea level rise
A final major environmental issue related to climate change in Texas is sea level rise above average. Between 1950 and today, sea levels have already risen 18 inches (41 centimeters) and continue to rise at a faster rate of about one inch (2.5 centimeters) per year. This, coupled with coastal erosion, puts the built-up area around Texas’ most populous city, Houston, at risk of regular flooding in the coming decades. A slightly higher sea level can make a big difference in the occurrence of extreme storm surges. A 100-year flood (an intensity that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year) could become a 10-year event by 2050, making communities living near coasts much more vulnerable. Today, Texas has 127,000 people at risk of coastal flooding, but by mid-century, 117,000 more people are expected to be at risk from this phenomenon.
Is there an exit?
The weather in Texas is changing rapidly due to climate change, making life in the state more difficult and recovery from increasingly disruptive events much more costly. Experts agree that preparedness and resilience should be at the top of the list. Yet the only long-term solution to extreme weather events is to address the root cause, climate change. Our planet has already warmed by about 1.1°C since pre-industrial times, and we are still on track to exceed 1.5°C of warming over the next two decades. Unless the world as a whole drastically stops adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, record heat waves and other extreme weather will become even more frequent, threatening millions more lives around the world. The race is now on to drastically reduce emissions and help people adapt to already locked in warming.
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