tx H2O

txH2O Winter 2008

Texas is vulnerable to climate change

Texas is expected to see hotter temperatures, more concentrated rain, higher soil evaporation rates, greater frequency of droughts, higher sea levels with increased hurricane intensities along with lower precipitation and diminished water supplies, according to two Texas A&M University researchers.

"Texas is very vulnerable to climate change," said Dr. Bruce McCarl, Regents Professor in Texas A&M University's Department of Agricultural Economics. "It has a warm, often dry, climate greatly affecting water and energy needs, agricultural and forestry production, pest populations, disease prevalence, and ecological conditions.

"Agricultural production is highly influenced by such conditions and thus is vulnerable to climate change," he said, estimating that Texas will have as much as a 40 percent reduction in acreage in crop production.

Texas is also quite vulnerable if actions are taken to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Nationally over 80 percent of the emissions come from petroleum and electricity generation," he said. "Texas emits almost twice the total volume of greenhouse gasses compared with any other U.S. state. This comes from Texas' large petroleum industry and inventory of coal-fired power plants."

McCarl stressed that Texas could be "squeezed" economically by attempts to lower emissions, which would increase energy prices and industry costs.

"Furthermore, Texas is expecting a large population growth that will increase its water and energy needs," McCarl said.

"My whole focus," he explained, "has been to estimate what damages arise if the 'bulldozer' of climate change hits us, and what opportunities we have for agriculture to help mitigate them."

Dr. Gerald North, Distinguished Professor in Texas A&M's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, agreed with McCarl about Texas' vulnerability, saying that, outside of Alaska, Texas may be the state most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

"Texas will face a number of challenges, and its main problem is water," North said. "Other things, such as increased population, the decline in the Ogallala Aquifer, and increased urbanization will combine with climate change to make it worse."

Since research shows that the state's average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last three decades and will continue to rise, North, who speaks on climate change all over the state and country, said precipitation would have to increase by 50 percent to maintain current water volumes in the state's rivers and lakes.

"The high temperatures experienced during the terrible drought in the 1950s will become the average temperature," he said.

North co-edited a 1995 book, Impact of Global Warming in Texas, and is currently working on a revision due in 2008. McCarl is one of the chapter authors.

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