Texas is vulnerable to increasing heat, sea level rise, and severe storms which threaten agricultural and economic productivity and human health
Texas’s climate is already changing. In the past century, most of the state has warmed between one-half and one degree Fahrenheit. In the eastern two-thirds of the state, average annual rainfall is increasing, yet the soil is becoming drier. Rainstorms are becoming more intense, and floods are becoming more severe. Along much of the coast, the sea is rising almost two inches per decade. In the coming decades, storms are likely to become more severe, deserts may expand, and summers are likely to become increasingly hot and dry, creating problems for agriculture and possibly human health.
- Increasing heat: Extreme heat will increase in the Great Plains region. Days where the maximum temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the Southern Plains are projected to quadruple by mid-century. Rising temperatures, persistent drought and aquifer depletion could threaten the long-term sustainability of the great plains. While the northern plains may see crop gains, Texas could see losses in crop yields as temperatures continue to rise and winters become warmer according to a Risky Business report. Farmers in Texas could see their crop yields decline by nearly 24 percent by mid-century and by more than half by 2100.
- Sea level rise: Sea level is rising more rapidly along the Texas coast than the rise caused by climate change alone, because the land is sinking, largely because of groundwater pumping. If the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, sea level is likely to rise two to five feet in the next century along much of the Texas coast. Rising sea level submerges wetlands and dry land, erodes beaches, and exacerbates coastal flooding. Many types of birds and fish depend on tidal wetlands. Shore erosion can eliminate public access along the beach, especially where development is immediately inland.
- Water availability: Climate change is likely to increase the demand for water while making it less available. Higher temperatures will increase evaporation and dry soils, streams and rivers, threatening the viability and productivity of some agricultural and pasture land. This adds stress to the water resources that are already limited, increasing the competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production and ecological resources. Drier soils will increase the need for farmers to irrigate their crops, but sufficient water might not be available. Approximately 14 percent of the farmland in Texas is irrigated; in the Panhandle and the plains to the south, most irrigation water is groundwater from the High Plains Aquifer System. As a result, this aquifer is becoming depleted. Since the 1950s, the amount of water stored in the aquifer has declined by more than 50 percent in some parts of the state.
- Increased flooding risk due to storms: Although summer droughts are likely to become more severe, floods may also intensify. During the last 50 years, the amount of rain falling during the wettest four days of the year has increased about 15 percent in the Great Plains. Over the next several decades, heavy downpours will account for an increasing fraction of all precipitation, and average precipitation during winter and spring is likely to increase. Both of these factors would further increase flooding.
- Increased wildfire risk: The record-breaking wildfires that erupted in early March 2017 in the Great Plains are consistent with the long-term increase in wildfire activity observed in the western US grasslands, activity driven by climate change.
- Adaptation: Texas has not developed a climate adaptation plan.
Texas residents support clean energy and climate regulations
- According to the Yale Map Project on Climate Change Communication 69% of Texas residents recognize that global warming is happening. The project finds that 71% of residents support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and 79% support funding research into renewable energy sources.
Texas leads the nation in wind and is top 10 in solar
- Wind: Texas leads the nation in both installed wind capacity as well as in capacity under construction. Currently over 21,000 MW of capacity is installed in Texas, enough to power 5.3 million homes. Texas is home to 40 active wind manufacturing facilities and the industry employs over 22,000 people.
- Solar: Texas ranks 9th in solar capacity, with 1,227 MW installed. The solar industry employs over 9,300 people across 545 companies across the value chain.
- Renewable Portfolio Standard: Texas established a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in 1999, amending it in 2005. The current RPS requires 5,880 MW of renewable energy by 2015. The state also has a target of reaching 10,000 MW of renewable capacity by 2025, a target that the Texas wind energy industry met in 2010.
- Oil: As of January 2016, the 29 petroleum refineries in Texas had a capacity of over 5.4 million barrels of crude oil per day and accounted for 30% of total U.S. refining capacity.
- Coal: Texas is the nation’s largest producer of lignite coal. About 40% of the coal burned for electricity generation in Texas is lignite.