Texas prepares to weather potential consequences on its coastline even as more Americans view climate change an imminent threat
A growing percentage of Americans see climate change as an “imminent” threat driven mainly by human activity, and more than two-thirds want Washington to work with other nations to combat it, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. The public concern over global warming in the United States clashes with President Donald Trump’s policies aimed at maximizing fossil fuels production and dismantling climate protections he views as too onerous and costly for industry.
Trump last year announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, an accord to curb global warming struck by nearly 200 nations in 2015 that he said would kill American jobs and have no tangible environmental benefit.
- More than half, or 57 percent, also think global warming is caused by “human activity” or “mostly human activity”, according to the survey, up from the 47 percent who attributed it to human activity in a similar poll in 2012.
- 69 percent said in the poll that the United States should work with other nations to curb climate change, including 64 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats. That marks a decline from 72 percent in a similar poll in 2017.
The survey came close on the heels of a U.S. government report released last month that said climate change will cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century, undermining health, infrastructure, and industries from farming to energy production.
- Trump rejected the report’s findings, saying “I don’t believe it.” The White House said the report relied on faulty methodology and that the next assessment of the threats posed by climate change would be more transparent and data driven.
- The United States has seen a surge in oil and gas output in the past decade, due mainly to advances in drilling technology, and this year became the world’s top producer of petroleum ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.
The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.
Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
NASA’s Earth Now is an application that visualizes recent global climate data from Earth Science satellites, including surface air temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and water vapor as well as gravity and sea level variations.
- At least since 1880, the average global sea level has been rising. The acceleration is due mostly to global warming that is driving the thermal expansion of seawater while melting land-based ice sheets and glaciers. The current trend is expected to further accelerate during the 21st century.
- Sea level rises can considerably influence human populations in coastal and island regions and natural environments like marine ecosystems. Widespread coastal flooding would be expected if several degrees of warming are sustained for millennia. Societies can respond to sea level rise in three different ways: retreat, accommodate and protect.
The Texas Gulf Coast
The state of Texas plans to weather the storm with plans to protect it’s major ports and resorts, including a massive sea gate to the Houston ship channel.
The Texas coastal region, home to one-quarter of the state’s population, plays a major role in the energy security of the entire country.
- The state’s ports, intracoastal waterways, recreational activities and tourism all contribute to a robust Texas and national economy. Texas is the nation’s top state for waterborne commerce with Texas ports representing over $82.8 billion in economic value to the state. More than 522 million tons of cargo pass through Texas ports annually, including machinery, grain, seafood, oil, cars, retail merchandise and military freight.
- Three Texas ports are designated by the Department of Defense as “strategic military ports,” providing surface deployment and distribution for strategic military cargo worldwide. The Port of Beaumont, Port of Port Arthur and the Port of Corpus Christi all serve in the U.S. Maritime Administration’s National Port Readiness Network, supporting deployment of United States military forces during defense emergencies. For example, the Port of Beaumont handles more military cargo than any other port in the United States.
- Texas also fuels the nation, with much of this activity taking place around the Houston area, known as the Texas Gulf Coast Refining District. This coastal infrastructure is critical to our national economy. Therefore, it is imperative that we provide improved coastal protection measures to ensure our state and nation’s stability for years to come.
- Other critical state and national economic generators along the Texas coast include commercial and recreational fishing, and tourism. Commercial fishing has long supported local and state economies. Top commercial species include various shrimp, oysters, blue crab, red snapper and black drum.
- The Gulf Coast’s natural bounty beckons visitors to Texas year after year, keeping the economy strong and creating jobs for both coastal residents and inland workers. Outstanding fishing, birding and waterfowl hunting opportunities, as well as family outings to the beach, make the coast the second most popular tourist destination in Texas.
The Texas coast, however, is subject to coastal erosion, relative sea level rise, coastal storm surge, habitat loss and water quality degradation. These coastal hazards are placing the environmental and economic health of the coast at risk, which negatively impacts the state and national economy. In addition, events such as Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Dolly, cause further ecological and economic devastation to the Texas coast, and emphasize the need for enhanced resiliency of the coast to prevent future damage and loss.
Texas has until 2100 to make changes to protect most of the coast from major flooding.
- In November 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in partnership with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), initiated the Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study, also known as the Coastal Texas Study, to determine the feasibility of constructing coastal storm risk management and ecosystem restoration projects using a multiple lines of defense strategy along the Texas coast. The project selection process resulted in six coastal storm risk management options and nine large-scale ecosystem restoration projects that will undergo engineering, economic and environmental analyses, including reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, to determine feasibility for Congressional consideration.
- The Coastal Texas Study is estimated to cost approximately $19.8 million with a 50/50 federal to non-federal cost share split. A significant portion of the GLO’s cost share will be conducted through work-in-kind contracts with GLO professional service providers.
- The results of the engineering, economic and environmental examinations will determine which projects will be submitted to Congress for authorization and funding. The USACE and GLO will coordinate with local entities to identify implementing sponsors for design and construction of Congressionally-approved projects.
The Coastal Texas Study is scheduled to be completed in 2021.
The state of Texas is taking proactive measures to protect the Texas Gulf Coast primarily for the economic value of the ports. Modest increases in sea level can be offset when cities adapt by constructing effective sea walls.
The Texas climate is characterized by hot summers and cool to mild winters. Three geographical features largely influence the state’s varied climate. The Rocky Mountains block intrusions of moist Pacific air from the west and tend to channel arctic air masses southward during the winter. The relatively flat central North American continent allows easy north and south movement of air masses.
The Gulf of Mexico is the primary source of moisture, most readily available to the eastern part of the state. As a result of these factors, the state exhibits large east-west variations in precipitation and is subject to frequent occurrences of a variety of extreme events, including hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, heat waves, cold waves, and intense precipitation. Increased demand for limited water supplies due to rapid population growth, especially in urban areas, may increase Texas’ vulnerability to naturally occurring droughts.
Mean annual temperatures has increased approximately 1°F since the first half of the 20th century (Figure 1). While there is no overall trend in extremely hot days (maximum temperature above 100°F) (Figure 2), the number of very warm nights (minimum temperature below 75°F) was a record high during the latest 2010–2014 period (Figure 3). This was due to very high values during the drought years of 2011 and 2012 when very warm nights were very frequent both along the coast (where they are a common feature of the climate due to warm waters) and in the interior (where they are less common).
The urban heat island effect increased these occurrences in city centers. In 2011, Texas recorded its warmest summer on record (since 1895) and broke the record for the statewide-average highest number of days with temperatures of 100°F or more. The Dallas-Fort Worth area endured 40 consecutive days in excess of 100°F, which was the second longest streak on record (1898–2011). The record dry conditions contributed to the higher temperatures.
Over the period of 1900 to 2010, the Texas coastline endured more than 85 tropical storms and hurricanes (about 3 storms every 4 years), with approximately half of them hurricanes.
- Since 2000, Texas has experienced 12 named storms, including 5 destructive hurricanes, with Hurricane Rita (Category 3) and Hurricane Ike (Category 2) causing the most significant damage, these in the Galveston area.
- While Hurricane Rita holds the designation as causing the largest U.S. evacuation in history, Hurricane Ike is the costliest hurricane in Texas history, with an estimated $19.3 billion in damages.
- Along the southern coast, surges of between 11 and 13 feet typically have return periods of 25 years.
Since 1880, global sea level has risen by about 8 inches. Along the Texas coastline, sea level rise has been measured between 5 and 17 inches per century, causing the loss of an average of 180 acres of coastline per year. Sea level is projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100 as a result of both past and future emissions from human activities. Most of the Texas coast would see major flooding after 3 feet or approximately the turn of the next century.
It appears Texas has everything in hand to weather the storms ahead!
Life’s better at the beach, Texas intends to keep it that way!