Climate Change Denial in Texas

Climate Change and Texas Therapy

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday’s blog on climate change clearly hit a nerve. So did the fact that I had gone on too long to provide an answer. Look at a few selections:

I

As for THIS latest blog you just wrote?…………………damn………..I need the therapy. And I need it now. I am still bummed by that doofus. NOT just because of the obvious reasons but also because he has shattered all my moral and ethical constructs. It is like he is the little old man of OZ as yet undiscovered. Just wind and special effects but weaker than hell. He blew away Tinkerbell and all my Disney foundations. Good, it seems, has no chance against lies and corruption, theft and cheating. Dumb wins. Hell, dumb and evil won.

Admittedly, HC was undeserving but that does not excuse or legitimize Trump in any way. If Disney was right, the USA would have voted Obama back in despite the two-term limit….as a write-in.

Please, HA, save me………………….I’ll take a magic feather……whatever……….

II:

Not sure why Texas would be therapeutic here…What’s missing in your analysis is Trump’s model of economic growth, which is debt and carbon-led. He doesn’t have anything else in his head. We can analyze the China card or Putin’s mailed fist all we want, but it really comes down to the model of accumulation.

III:

Our daughter, an expert for Standard and Poor’s on utilities, currently finishing 6 months of being seconded to Canary Wharf but returning home by December 1 says: the individual states will continue to implement anti-climate change policies. Colorado, Arizona, Texas and California have huge investments in green energy (and this I know due to in my role as expert witness in hearings re wind turbines). So I am predicting tomorrow we will read that you have learned about massive green energy projects in Texas. Am I right? Bloomberg news is a good source about the implementation of green energy everywhere. Further word from my daughter. She is not concerned about Trump and climate change. She is concerned about Trump starting World War III.

Dead on in the third, though also the second. So how can Texas serve as a model for dealing with climate change? My thesis, absorbed from my nephew who is a professor of Environmental Law in Austin, is precisely that – the investment in the private sector in renewable energy is so advanced and now more than competitive with fossil fuel sources of energy. That economic edge will mean that the market, and not government regulation or intervention, will now assume the leading edge in fighting climate change and do so in spite of Donald Trump’s proposed irrational economic policies. Tomorrow we will see whether this thesis has any validity. (My apologies to my first respondent above, but I have offered you a bone to chew on while you eagerly await tomorrow’s contribution.) Today, I want to offer a portrait of why Texas seems like the least likely political environment and the most needed physical environment to implement measures to impede and reverse climate change.

However, before I plunge into economics, let me discuss a sociological and political lesson that I received upon my arrival in Austin, Texas. I took a cab from the airport to my nephew’s house upon my arrival. As it turned out, the cab driver had voted for Trump. Though I was unable to ascertain or learn which Middle Eastern country he was from – he dodged my queries though he was unhesitating in telling me about how he voted even though he quickly learned that I was critical of the election of Donald Trump. Why did he vote for The Donald? In his words, Donald did not talk like all the other experts, media people and rich guys. He talked like he was one of us. As he put it, “He talked like we do.” Crass. Opinionated. Straight from the hip rather than the brain. Trump may have been a billionaire, but that simply made it more significant that he was not an elitist member of the establishment.

Until that conversation, I had come to believe that the election of Trump was a right-wing populist revolt against democratic responsible government and urban elites in general. There is some truth in that conclusion, but it is far from the whole truth. Donald Trump is the first American presidential candidate in the history of that country to openly assert, in effect, that America was and still is structured as a democratic monarchy and that he was running to be the elected monarch of the American people. Though he is very wealthy, he claimed to be running against the well-endowed who use their wealth to enrich themselves. And who should know that better than he who spent a career buying the favours of politicians. Donald Trump was also running against career politicians; he claimed Hillary Clinton was an exemplar who may have said that she worked for all the people, but Trump accused her along with many others of using their positions in political office to enrich themselves at the expense of that citizenry. Donald was running against the plutocracy of the rich and the would-be rich.

Trump made his wealth in the private sector. Now he has used his private wealth to achieve public office ostensibly to work on behalf of the citizens. And on behalf of the state of which those citizens are members to make that state “great again”. Trump is not viewed as a monarch who becomes a tyrant to benefit himself financially. He presents himself as a man of property and leisure purportedly dedicated to serving the citizenry and the state. He is neither a tradesman nor a labourer, neither a craftsman nor a professional who still has to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. He is an individual who portrays himself as a plutocrat, but one now opposed to the plutocracy of wealth, privilege and power. He is the American Moses who, though raised in a palace, would lead his people to freedom and glory. Though not quite articulated in this way, this is how that cab driver saw The Donald. And the cabbie was born in some Middle East country.

A plutocrat uses wealth (ploutos, πλοῦτος) to acquire power (kratos, κράτος). Trump was perceived as using wealth to exercise power on behalf of the citizenry who felt excluded from the centres of power and were looking for a champion. They had no illusions that the United States was a country that inherently was run by the people and for the people. Rather, it was a country that required an elected monarch who served all effectively disenfranchised citizens. The use of Greek is important because it was Aristotle who, 2,500 years ago, articulated the various possible forms of government.

In Book V, Part X of his Politics, Aristotle pointed out that in one form of monarchy, aristocrats chose the king from among their number to protect the interests of the better class against the people. That monarch could and might seize absolute power from his fellow aristocrats; in doing so, he would become a tyrant. But there is another form of tyranny which marries oligarchy to democracy to create a system of governance ostensibly to work on behalf of the people against the plutocrats. As Aristotle wrote, “a tyrant is chosen from the people to be their protector against the notables.” He went on to write, “History shows that almost all tyrants have been demagogues who gained the favor of the people by their accusation of the notables.” Tyrants can arise from aristocrats who turn against their own class after being chosen from that class, or begin as demagogues ostensibly acting on behalf of the people and becoming a tyrant via this route.

America is headed towards tyranny, make no mistake about it. The system of checks and balances will be used to consolidate power not check it. From the conversation with the taxi driver, I saw all my fears validated. But what about my fear of this demagogue and would-be tyrant who is deeply embedded in conspiracy theories and is a denier of the aristocracy of science and particularly those scientists who documented climate change? Those scientists have warned the populace of the dangers of climate change. One cannot expect Trump to be the one who advances the environmental policies needed. Instead, he is expected to exacerbate the problems associated with climate change.

Rick Perry, the past Republican Governor of Texas, was one of America’s most outspoken climate change deniers. At the same time, he declared a drought emergency in 200 counties of Texas over five years ago. In his proclamation, he stated, “Record high temperatures, preceded by significantly low rainfall, have resulted in declining reservoir and aquifer levels, threatening water supplies and delivery systems in many parts of the state.” So in the face of extreme weather and its acknowledgement, the governor doggedly refused to accept climate change as a reality. His successor two years ago, Governor Greg Abbott joined other climate change deniers from Texas to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Clean Power Plan” and new EPA regulations.

The governors are not the only ones opposing regulations to reduce fossil fuel emissions. They are backed by a cohort of Republicans who agree that climate change is a hoax. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded that 2012 was the hottest year on record for the lower 48 states. The NOAA linked extreme events in Texas and drought to climate change. How did the legislatures react? Not by combating climate change, but by putting band-aids on the effects. One might argue, as Abbott did, that EPA regulations interfere with Texas sovereignty and will certainly result in higher energy prices for Texans. In other words, Abbott possibly may not be a fanatical climate change denier but a believer in state’s rights and an opponent of increased regulation. After all, his statements on climate change have been somewhat equivocal.

“As a matter of historical fact, the climate changes. Long before fossil fuel was ever discovered and used on a large-scale industrial basis, the earth’s climate changed substantially on numerous occasions. However, many scientists believe that certain human activities impact the climate. Others dispute the extent to which any activity has a particular level of influence on the climate, which is why this matter needs to continue to be investigated. We must be good guardians of our Earth, but we must base our decisions on peer-reviewed scientific inquiry, free from political demagogues using climate change as an excuse to remake the American economy.”

A coalition has been formed led by former banker and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and billionaire hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist, Tom Steyer. The three lead a bi-partisan 20-member governing committee of mostly former presidential Cabinet members. They commissioned a report – “Come Heat and High Water: Climate Risk in the Southeastern U.S. and Texas.” In the absence of any steps to reverse the process, that report singled out Texas as one of the states most negatively impacted by climate change. By mid-century, Texans could expect a sharp increase in heat-related deaths (4,500 per year in the next 5-15 years) and storm-related losses ($650 million/year), and a decrease in worker productivity and crop yields. Extreme hot weather days with temperatures in excess of 95 degrees Fahrenheit would increase from 43 to 106 days per annum, almost 30% of the year. Further, the sea can be expected to rise in Galveston by 2 feet and global warming was already identified by climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon as the major cause of the devastating floods that recently hit Texas.

But these are just the visible consequences of climate change. There are invisible ones as well, that is, ones we cannot see with the naked eye. All of them are not only negative effects of climate change, but also instigators of more climate change to different degrees. They affect the air, the oceans and the regions below the surface of the earth. The most important of them is the CO2 thrust into the atmosphere. It is viewed as the major catalyst for climate change responsible for the so-called greenhouse effect. At the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists hypothesized that lower levels of CO2 in the atmosphere had been responsible for the ice ages. They began to speculate and then prophecize about the reverse effect. Higher levels of CO2 has resulted and would continue to result in increased global warming.

In the year I was born, 1938, a scientist, G.S. Callendar, pointed out that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was climbing and raising global temperatures. The overwhelming number of scientists, though not quite climate change deniers, were certainly climate change sceptics. But as the evidence mounted, as measurements year after year documented the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, correlated that with accelerating rates of climate change, conducted lab experiments to verify the hypothesis, between 1960 and 1990, virtually all scientists accepted climate change as a reality and CO2 as the principal cause. But this was also a consequence as desertification spread and there were fewer trees to convert the gas back into oxygen. And these are just illustrations.

The coral in the sea and the huge fish populations in the oceans have been devastated by relatively minor fluctuations in the temperature of the ocean. More heat produced goes into the oceans than into the atmosphere, considerably more. While the atmosphere absorbs 2.3% of the additional heat produced and the continents almost as much and the glaciers and ice sheets about the same amount, 93.4% of additional heat is absorbed by the oceans. Admittedly, oceans are huge. But not nearly huge enough for the huge volumes of heat produced. The temperatures of the oceans began a steady rise since the 1970s at the same time that CO2 in the atmosphere was clearly having noticeable effects. From 1970 to 2010, the global ocean heat content has risen dramatically. That has been correlated with coral bleaching and the decline in the prevalence of fish stocks. That has in turn resulted in further increases in ocean temperatures and more and more widespread heat anomalies. These changes in turn affect our weather patterns and produce more violent extremes of weather. The droughts and the forest fires unleashed in turn accelerate the rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 and ocean temperatures.

However, the hidden result that I want to point out is the effect on the aquifers, in particular the aquifers in Texas. Aquifers are a critical part of the eco-systems method of recirculating fresh water. They are the storage chambers of many varieties that exist below the surface of the earth, unseen but not untapped. An aquifer is rock or sediment of different degrees of permeability (in contrast to clay and shale) that transports water underground in sufficient volume and quality to be used by humans. Aquifers have recharge and discharge areas. The recharge areas are shrinking and the recharge ability has sunk below sustainability. Our aquifers are being drained. Trump wanted to drain the swamp in Washington, but there is a real and present danger that his policies might accelerate the rate at which our aquifers are being drained with just the enhanced use of fracking to recover gas and oil beneath the surface, though there are many other causes.

In Texas, aquifers provide more than half the water supply, 2.5 trillion gallons. 90% of the state’s groundwater comes from only nine major aquifers. Some of those aquifers as they are being drained are becoming increasingly saline (the Lipan aquifer). The most prolific aquifer of all and one of the largest in the world is the Ogallala aquifer of the Southern High Plains that provides water for Midwest states (Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico) and, in particular, West Texas. When there is drought, and there has been now year after year, conflict between agricultural and domestic pumpers increase. 27% of land irrigated in the U.S. takes place because of aquifers like Ogallala. That aquifer is at clear risk of over-extraction and pollution. Since 1950, because of agricultural use to feed water hungry crops like corn, the size of the aquifer has been reduced by almost 10%. “The depletion between 2001 and 2008, inclusive, is about 32% of the cumulative depletion during the entire 20th century.” The rate of use has clearly become unsustainable.

This is but a sideward glance into the problem. Texas may cumulatively be the most affected area in the United States by climate change. Yet it is home to the most vociferous climate change deniers. In the face of these disasters in 2015, Ted Cruz (Republican Senator from Texas in the U.S. Senate), already a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, and a prominent climate change denier, dodged all efforts to link these devastating events with climate change. In other words, on both the state and the federal level, Texas was both a hotbed of climate change effects and of climate change deniers who buried their heads in the sand to retain an irrational set of beliefs. Yet it is in Texas, in this oil-rich state with a plethora of offshore oil platforms, that we have witnessed the most innovative steps to combat climate change, not because of public policy but in spite of it.

Texas would appear to be the state least likely to respond to the challenges of climate change given the politicians in charge. Texas is also a state where it is imperative that the challenges of climate change be tackled. So how and why has the reversal taken place in Texas and what is the extent?
Tomorrow: The Texas Inversion and Its Causes

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