Saturday, July 9, 2011

Houston Chronicle :: The Impact of Global Warming on Texas

The Impact of Global Warming on Texas
Edited by  Jurgen Schmandt, Gerald R. North,
and Judith Clarkson
Texas is vulnerable to warming climate
By Andrew Dessler

As you sit by the pool and sweat this summer, one book you should be reading is The Impact of Global Warming on Texas (University of Texas Press, June 2011, second edition). This book, written by a group of Texas academics, is a sober analysis of our state's vulnerability to climate change — and the things we can do about it.

It is a particularly appropriate read as we suffer through the hellish summer of 2011. While it is unknown exactly how much human activities are contributing to this summer's unpleasant weather, one lesson from the book is clear: Get used to it. The weather of the 21st century will be very much like the hot and dry weather of 2011. Giving extra credibility to this forecast is the fact that the weather extremes that we are presently experiencing were predicted in the first edition in 1995.

The changes in temperature and precipitation, along with rising sea levels, will leave no part of Texas unchanged. This includes both the natural landscape and the cities, the wildlife and important economic sectors, like agriculture. While climate change may be good for some parts of the globe (e.g., Siberia, northern Canada), Texas is most definitely not one of them. Rather, the vulnerability of Texas is more akin to that of the low-lying island states of the Pacific that are going to be inundated by sea-level rise over the coming century.

This makes the refusal of our leaders in Austin to take action on climate change that much more unfortunate.

There are few qualified atmospheric scientists who would argue with the assessment in the book. And there are none in Texas. Attempts over the last few years to stage a debate in Texas about the science of climate change have required flying a skeptic in from out of state.

In one case, they had to import one from Canada.

Yet despite the overwhelming agreement by scientific experts on these points, rancorous debate over policy remains. People are worried that policies to address climate change will hurt their standards of living.

But unchecked climate change will also cost them money. This summer, for example, Texans with air conditioning are paying quite a bit more for electricity to cool their houses than they have in the past. And while it has not hit yet, the impact of the summer weather will eventually lead to higher agricultural commodity prices.

Thus, there is no free lunch: Either we pay to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases or we pay for the impacts of a changing climate.

Economists have looked at this problem repeatedly over the last two decades and virtually every mainstream economist has concluded that the costs of reducing emissions are less than the costs of unchecked climate change - the only disagreement is on the optimal level of emissions reductions.

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