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The Texas House Committee on County Affairs will meet at 9:15 AM on Tuesday, February 06, 2018 at The University of Houston – Downtown Campus, Welcome Center Building, Milam and Travis Rooms, 201 Girard Street, Houston, TX 77002 to consider the following interim charges:

  1. Examine how emergency response activities are organized, funded, and coordinated. Review the impact of natural disasters on county finances. Identify any deficiencies in authority for the most populous counties related to infrastructure planning, emergency response, and recovery. Explore ways to improve efficiencies and manage costs while protecting public safety. Additionally, study the relationship between the state, counties, non-governmental organizations, and churches in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, and determine if preparedness plans are adequate.
  2. Evaluate whether counties have the necessary ordinance-making and enforcement authority to deal with flood risk in unincorporated rural and suburban areas of Texas. Additionally, examine whether counties have adequate resources and authority to ensure that new development in unincorporated areas is not susceptible to flooding.
  3. The Committee will also discuss the implementation of SB 1849 otherwise known as the “Sandra Bland Act” (relating to interactions between law enforcement and individuals detained or arrested on suspicion of the commission of criminal offenses, to the confinement, conviction, or release of those individuals, and to grants supporting populations that are more likely to interact frequently with law enforcement).

Prior to the hearing, Committee Members will take a tour of the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey at the University of Houston- Downtown.

The hearing will be live-streamed.  To view the hearing, please copy and paste the following link into your web browser: uhdhml.uhd.edu/Player/Live/4.

The Committee will hear invited and public testimony.  Public testimony is generally limited to 3 minutes so prepare accordingly.

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Upcoming Texas Primary

The Texas primary for the 2018 general election is just around the corner on March 6, 2018. If you are not already registered, the deadline is February 5, 2018.  If you need to find out how to register or to check to see if you are already registered, click here.

Last month, the Texas Tribune put together a list that lets you easily see who is running in all the primary races in Texas .  This election cycle hundreds of candidates across the state have filed to run for public office for statewide, congressional and legislative offices and the State Board of Education.

Early voting begins Feb. 20. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the primary, the top two vote-getters will compete in a primary runoff on May 22.

Click here to find out what candidates are running in races you might be interested in.

If you are not sure which campaigns pertain to you, click here and enter your home address to see who currently represents you (includes information on the congressional, Texas state house and senate districts and other information).

Voter attitudes about Climate Change

In 2016, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication started a survey that maps voter beliefs about climate change by Congressional districts and then by party affiliation.  You can see the results by going to the Partisan Climate Opinion Maps 2016

If you would like to see how candidates running for offices align with voters in your area feel free to ask candidates one or all of the following 8 questions from the Yale survey.

BELIEFS

Recently, you may have noticed that global warming has been getting some attention in the news. Global warming refers to the idea that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate may change as a result. What do you think: Do you think that global warming is happening?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Don’t know

Assuming global warming is happening, do you think it is… ?

  • Caused mostly by human activities
  • Caused mostly by natural changes in the environment
  • Other
  • None of the above because global warming isn’t happening

Most scientists think global warming is happening.  Which comes closest to your own view?

  • Most scientists think global warming is happening
  • There is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening
  • Most scientists think global warming is not happening
  • Don’t know enough to say

RISKS

How worried are you about global warming?

  • Very worried
  • Somewhat worried
  • Not very worried
  • Not at all worried

How much do you think global warming will harm people in the United States?

  • Not at all
  • Only a little
  • A moderate amount
  • A great deal
  • Don’t know

POLICY SUPPORT                     

How much do you support or oppose the following policies?

Fund more research into renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power

  • Strongly support
  • Somewhat support
  • Somewhat oppose
  • Strongly oppose

Regulate carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) as a pollutant

  • Strongly support
  • Somewhat support
  • Somewhat oppose
  • Strongly oppose

Require electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year

  • Strongly support
  • Somewhat support
  • Somewhat oppose
  • Strongly oppose

We hope this information will help you in making informed decisions and participating in the upcoming primary.

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Public Citizen’s Texas office is engaged with cities across the state in developing Climate Action Plans. We were heavily involved in the development of the Austin Community Climate Plan (pdf download) and now we are participating in a similar effort in San Antonio. We are also looking at efforts to prepare for climate change in Houston and Dallas.

One of the drivers of city-level action on climate change today is the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, sometimes known simply as the “Climate Mayors”. Mayors of six Texas cities—Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Smitville—have signed the Climate Mayors letter. Of those six, only Austin has completed a Climate Action Plan.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (far right) is co-chair of the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda.

Fortunately for the rest of Texas, the Climate Mayors have provided guidelines on developing your city’s Climate Action Plan. Below, we look at the five big steps in municipal climate planning.

  1. Develop an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

An “emissions inventory” is an accounting of all the air pollution emissions a particular source or group of sources. A greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory focuses on the pollutants responsible for climate change, chiefly carbon dioxide and methane. The inventory is important because it provides a starting point for the rest of the plan—a baseline of GHG emissions. As one popular saying puts it, “What gets measured, gets improved.”

Cities have an important choice to make when completing their GHG inventory: will they count all of the emissions within their borders, or just the emissions caused by municipal operations?

What’s the difference? Taking cars in Houston as an example, it’s the difference between the few hundred vehicles that the City of Houston itself owns and the 2 million + vehicles in the city in total. Many cities will lean toward inventorying only their own emissions, arguing that these are the only emissions that they are directly responsible for. But a complete inventory of all of the GHG emissions within a city’s borders can lead to a more comprehensive plan. A city can control its own vehicle purchases absolutely, but it can also enact policies that cause its citizens to buy cleaner vehicles. It could, for example, offer more charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

  1. Establish a target for emissions reductions.

 Once a city has inventoried its GHG emissions, it’s time to set a target for emissions reductions. When the United States initially joined the Paris Climate Accord, it set a target of 26 to 28 percent emissions reductions by 2025, over a 2005 baseline. (Those baseline emissions included 6,132 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, so the CO2 target for 2025 would be between 3,267 and 4,538 million metric tons.)

According to the Climate Mayors, many cities have adopted “80×50” goals, committing themselves to reducing GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Interim milestones are an important part of these goals, with most cities establishing their first milestone between 2020 and 2030.

Austin has adopted the goal of “net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” Note that “community-wide” emissions means all of the GHG pollution produced by everyone in the city, not just municipal operations.

  1. Prioritize and ‘bundle’ emissions reduction opportunities.

Next a city must identify, prioritize, and bundle its opportunities to reduce GHG emissions. Important considerations include political feasibility, cost, funding opportunities, ease of implementation, and timing. Also important are co-benefits of a given measure. Replacing old school buses, for example, reduces children’s exposure to harmful pollutants such as particulate matter.

A comprehensive plan will take into account existing efforts, ongoing state and federal obligations, and the long timeline (typically several decades) of a climate plan. Emissions reductions opportunities should also provide a reliable way to quantify emissions achieved. Once emissions reductions opportunities are scored and packaged, they should be integrated into a long term plan to achieve the goals set in step two of the process.

  1. Design an implementation plan.

 A city’s implementation plan will dictate exactly how it enacts the measures it has committed to in its Climate Action Plan. The strength of the implementation plan can distinguish “next generation” plans from earlier, less effective ones. It is here, in the details of implementation, that a plan will succeed or fail. The Climate Mayors have provide detailed examples of successful strategies for next generation plans. A common theme throughout its recommendations is “analytical rigor.” The plan should provide methods to quantify emissions reductions and a means to evaluate success.

  1. Establish a framework for monitoring success and refining the plan.

Analytical rigor will enable the final step in climate planning: monitoring success and refining the plan over time. The Climate Action Plan should provide, at its outset, a framework for quantifying the success of a given action. Detailed records should be kept and checked against milestones built into the plan’s reduction targets. If an action is not working, the plan should provide a method to change courses. Because climate action plans set goals decades into the future, regular review and refinement of a plan is essential.

These five steps may seem straightforward, but climate planning is a complex process. Fortunately, cities no longer have to go it alone. The Climate Mayors has aggregated the experience of dozens of cities and developed a robust set of recommendations for new climate planners (for example, 94 percent of cities with an existing plan said that, were they to revise their plan, transportation would be a “very important” area to consider). Public Citizen’s Texas Office offers its help to any city or group of citizens who are interested in climate planning.

Nationwide, 389 mayors have signed the Climate Mayors letter. If all of those cities developed robust plans, the United States could meet its targets in the Paris Accord without federal action. Several cities in Texas have begun the process, and we hope that they see it through to a successful Climate Action Plan.

Happy climate planning!

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The Texas Tribune has put together a list that will let you easily see who is running in all the primary races in Texas which is fast approaching with only 8 short weeks to decide who you want to see running in the November mid-term election. Texas will be the first state in the country to hold its primaries with an election held on March 6th.  This election cycle hundreds of candidates across the state have filed to run for public office for statewide, congressional and legislative offices and the State Board of Education.

Early voting begins Feb. 20. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the primary, the top two vote-getters will compete in a primary runoff on May 22.

Click here to find out what candidates are running in races you might be interested in.

If you are not sure which campaigns pertain to you, click here and enter your home address to see who currently represents you (includes information on the congressional, Texas state house and senate districts and other information).

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Texas and the Cost of Climate Change

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 may set a new record for being the most expensive year for disasters.  Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria combined with devastating Western wildfires and other localized natural disasters caused $306 billion in total damage in 2017, with 16 separate events that caused more than $1 billion in damage each.

The record-breaking year raises concerns about the effects of future natural disasters, as scientists fear climate change could make extreme weather events more damaging.  This is especially concerning to Texas which pays the most out of all U.S. states on events like hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and many other natural threats according to a leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University.

There have been 91 disasters in Texas costing more than a billion dollars since 1980.  Hurricane Harvey, which sparked extreme flooding in Houston and the surrounding area in August and September, is estimated to have caused $125 billion in damage, the year’s most expensive disaster.

One key question is to what extent climate change may be driving the U.S. toward more numerous or more severe disasters.

NOAA experts and other climate scientists generally demur on this question, reluctant to apportion how much of the damage could be attributed to a changing climate as opposed to other factors. One key factor also known to be worsening damage is that there is more valuable infrastructure, such as homes and businesses, in harm’s way — along coastlines or in areas vulnerable to wildfire.  Since the population in Texas is expected to nearly double by 2070, one should assume that the infrastructure in vulnerable areas will also increase, meaning the cost of extreme weather disasters to the state will continue to climb.

In the coming year, climate advocates such as ourselves will need to continue to combat the ignorance, misconceptions, and downright falsities that plague climate activism. We are increasingly encouraged to find local communities taking the lead in this battle. Austin has already passed a climate action plan. San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the process of developing similar plans. These are large metropolitan areas, but smaller cities and towns can take similar actions. Below are actions you, your business and community can take to mitigate climate change. We encourage you implement what you can, and we will continue to update you on what is happening in the state and in local communities.

Climate Solutions for Your Home, Business and Community

Climate change is a dangerous threat to our communities, but the solutions are ripe with opportunity.

Vote

Climate change is a problem that will require policy changes. Voting and letting elected officials know that you support climate-friendly policies is critically important. Policy changes at all levels and types of government are needed. Pay attention and participate in decisions at your school district, city, county, state government and federal government. Do your research on political candidates – even those in down-ballot races – before going to the voting booth to make sure you are casting educated votes. Many of the solutions below will be most effective with comprehensive policies to support them.

Community Climate Plan

Setting goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and developing a community climate action plan can provide an organized roadmap of actions to take as a community and as individuals. A community climate plan should begin by conducting a full greenhouse gas emissions inventory. The process should be open and driven by public participation.

Energy Efficiency

Reduce the amount of energy it takes to heat and cool buildings by sealing cracks, adding insulation, sealing ducts, and replacing old air conditioning units. Use programmable thermostats to reduce energy waste while buildings are unoccupied.

Co-benefits: Electricity bills will be reduced and comfort improved. Local jobs can be created.

Government: Adopt and enforce the 2015 Energy Code. Retrofit government facilities. Adopt Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) to allow commercial customers to finance energy and water efficiency and renewable energy investments.

Homeowners: When purchasing a home, get an energy audit before closing. Get energy audits for existing homes. Utilize incentives from your electric utility to make efficiency upgrades.

Businesses: Do a full cost/benefit analysis of making energy efficiency improvements. Consider utilizing the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to finance energy efficiency upgrades.

Renewable Energy

Purchase renewable energy for government buildings, homes and businesses.

Co-benefit: Fixed price contracts for wind and solar can protect against future energy price increases. Local jobs can be created.

Government: Buy or contract for wind and solar energy to power government facilities. Create community solar and solar group purchasing programs for residents.

Homeowners: Get a solar energy system installed at your home. Get at least three quotes and inquire about financing options. Or participate in community solar, where available.

Businesses: Get solar installed on unused roof space or on parking shelters. Consider utilizing the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to finance on-site solar.

Transportation

Reduce vehicle miles driven by utilizing public transportation, and transition to electric vehicles.

Co-benefits: Public transportation increases mobility for low-income residents and reduces transportation costs. Electric vehicles eliminate local air pollution and are cheaper to maintain and operate.

Government: Fund public transportation (rail and busses). Transition your vehicle fleet to all-electric. Even electric heavy vehicles, such as garbage trucks, are becoming available. Make car chargers (including rapid chargers) available in public parking spaces.

Residents: Utilize public transportation, car-pooling, bicycles and walking whenever possible. Purchase an electric vehicle.

Businesses: Transition company fleets to electric vehicles. Provide electric vehicle charging for your employees and customers. Create a company car-pool program and incentivize employees to use it.

Waste

Reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Composting keeps organic materials out of landfills, where they create methane – a powerful greenhouse gas. Recycling reduces the need for raw materials, which have a carbon footprint.

Co-benefits: Reduce the need for new landfills, which are unpopular in any community. Compost is a valuable fertilizer for lawns, gardens and farms.

Government: Establish a goal for reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. Establish curbside recycling and composting programs, as well as drop-off locations. Provide recycling and composting receptacles wherever there are trash cans.

Residents: Utilize city composting, create or buy a backyard composter or utilize community composting at local community gardens. Recycle everything you can. Avoid buying disposable products and products with packaging that can’t be recycled.

Businesses: Provide recycling receptacles wherever there are trash cans. In restaurants, provide composting in the kitchen, and also for customers to use, if customers bus their own tables. Phase out products and packaging that are difficult or impossible to recycle. In restaurants, replace plastic straws, utensils and dishes with compostable products (or at least recyclable products).

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Houston Mayor Turner, City Council Members, and community members displaced by Harvey speaking at a City of Houston press conference.

Months after Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians are still suffering. Over 5,000 people are not in their homes, some housed in hotels, others hopping between family or friends to ensure a roof over their heads. City of Houston urgently requests funding from the federal government to help the most vulnerable rebuild as well as to mitigate future flooding disasters.

As the U.S. House approved $81 billion for hurricane relief today, Texans await for the U.S. Senate to follow in their footsteps to help support hurricane-ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Yet this, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, is not enough. He called the reluctance to fully fund the $61 billion aid request from Texas a “formula for failure,” stating that the current proposal will not do enough to help those most vulnerable. In order for Houston to become a stronger and more resilient city, it needs strong support from the state and federal governments.

Gov. Abbott’s request for $61 billion, which the House did not fully fund in their package, includes $12 billion for what’s known as the “Ike Dike.” The Ike Dike is a proposed barrier that would be constructed in order to reduce the impact of storm surge on the petrochemical plants and refineries that line Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel. It would also include $466 million for the Port of Houston to “create resiliency” and harden the Houston Ship Channel.

Who Pays for Harvey?

While a 20 foot storm surge would no doubt create untold ecological, environmental, and health crises, the real impetus behind the Ike Dike is to protect the assets of the petrochemical industry, and this is $12+ billion  taxpayer-funded bailout. Public Citizen joins Center for Climate Integrity as part of a campaign called Who Pays for Harvey. Scientists have demonstrated that the rainfall and flooding from Harvey was made worse due to climate change-related effects. Furthermore, many of the major petrochemical companies that line the Houston Ship Channel have been aware of the impacts of climate change for decades, yet have actively funded denial campaigns to mislead the American public. Rather than another corporate bailout, government should hold corporations accountable for their role in climate change. Corporations should at the very least foot the bill for the infrastructure projects that serve to protect their assets, while leaving federal dollars to help the most vulnerable rebuild and put their lives back together.

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Public Citizen will be closed for the holidays on Monday, December 25, 2017; Monday, January 1, 2018; and Tuesday, January 2, 2018.  We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season and look forward to the new year.

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The population in Texas is expected to nearly double by 2070, and the state is also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  Because of this confluence of  threats (dense population and inherent exposure to a number of types of natural disasters that include, but are not limited to drought, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires), we are looking at a not so excellent future for a state with already strained resources.  It is important that the state look at mitigating the negative effects of population growth and climate change.

On November 29th, academicians, urban planning and environment experts discussed the future of Texas through the research initiative Planet Texas 2050  as part of the Environmental Science Institute’s 110th Hot Science Cool Talks. Panelists included UT mechanical engineering professor Michael Webber, urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter and leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers are tasked with planning for the sustainability of Texas and include faculty and staff researchers from UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, Environmental Science Institute, College of Liberal Arts and more.

According to the Environmental Science Institute director Jay Banner, global warming is creating more frequent and intense natural disasters such as droughts and hurricanes. Coupled with a quickly rising population, the impacts could affect many aspects of Texan life including health, the economy and even our supply of barbecue.

Webber said he believes we can view natural disasters and a rising population as an opportunity to not only become more sustainable, but also to get rich doing it through properly managing and profiting off of Texas’ large supply of renewable energy resources.

Webber added that while Texas needs to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, which worsen the effects of climate change, people can utilize wind energy and experiment with more sustainable technologies. He said moving away from using automobiles, which are a large contributor of greenhouse gases, is a great step to take.

Looking at the destructive nature of Hurricane Harvey, he went on to suggest a silver lining.  “Let’s not replace all 500,000 cars that were wiped out by Hurricane Harvey,” Webber said. “Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past but use these challenges to get better.”

Hayhoe also said moving away from our old ways is important in preparing for the future.

“The future is different, so trying to invest in coal today is like trying to invest in a horse buggy,” Hayhoe said.

Hayhoe pointed out that Texas pays the most out of all U.S. states on events like hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and many other natural threats.

The panelists were overall optimistic for the future of Texas while still emphasizing the intensity of the challenges ahead.  Public support for the findings of these experts will go a long way to ensuring our elected officials take note and lead us into a more sustainable future.

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An intrepid group from Environment Texas, joined by staff of the Texas office of Public Citizen, staged a protest in front of the federal building in Austin, Texas protesting provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – H.R.1 (115th Congress for 2017-2018), which the Senate passed early Saturday morning, that would change federal law on a matter that has little to do with the tax code. The bill authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska’s North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. The Senate bill will now be reconciled with the House version in conference so there is still an opportunity for you to let your Congresspersons and Senators know that you oppose this measure.

This morning is as close to artic weather as we get in Central Texas these days (43  ̊F, windy and raining) and that’s me across the street taking this picture

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HOLIDAY GREETINGS FROM PUBLIC CITIZEN

Wishes you a safe and happy
Thanksgiving Holiday

And when you return, join us to start the rest of your holiday celebrations at
The 10th Annual Austin Green Holiday Party
Presented by Barr Mansion & The Shades of Green Radio Show

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 from 6-10pm
Hosted and Sponsored by Barr Mansion
10463 Sprinkle Rd., Austin, TX 78754 (www.barrmansion.com)

Advance Tickets $25.00, ($30.00 at door)
(Tickets include snacks, dinner, all drinks and live music)

Co-Hosted by:

Join us for the Austin green mixer of the year, our 10th, can you believe it?  Hosted this year by 18 great organizations (including Public Citizen), this event is a fun place for area environmentalists to come together, celebrate, scheme and prepare for the new year.

Magical music by Seu Jacinto, a group introducing and developing traditional Northeastern Brazilian culture to Central Texas. Seu Jacinto pays homage to the masters of the Brazilian folk musical traditions of forró, coco, cavalo marinho, and many other Northeast Brazilian rhythms.

Experience how our hosts and sponsors Barr Mansion are at the nexus of a merging of the environmental and food movements while enjoying a buffet featuring a variety of their seasonal, all-organic favorites.

It’s been a crazy year so let’s “regroup”, have some fun and get ourselves ready for  2018. We look forward to seeing you there!

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I wrote recently about the difficulty of “blaming” any particular storm on global climate change. I pointed out there that scientists don’t usually reach conclusions in the form of: “X definitely caused Y.” Particularly when complex global systems are involved.

That remains true, but research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes a pretty strong claim about the link. Researchers assert that climate change made a storm such as Harvey six times more likely. That’s a startling figure.

We are also gaining insight about the causes of climate change–more specifically, about who caused climate change. A recent report by researchers at the Climate Accountability Institute asserts that just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all man made carbon dioxide and methane emissions since 1854. The report found that Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP were each individually responsible for 2 to 3 percent of all carbon emissions for the period 1880-2010. Only the country of Saudi Arabia had a larger contribution, with more than 3 percent.

These recent findings lead us to one conclusion: if we know climate change is causing major storms, and we know which companies are responsible for climate change, shouldn’t we start holding them accountable?

Harvey will cost taxpayers in excess of $100 billion. The City of Houston, the state of Texas, and the federal government have all committed millions to the cleanup effort. But it won’t be enough. Houstonians are already paying for Harvey. When will climate polluters pay their fare share?

We launched WhoPaysForHarvey.com with our colleagues at the Center for Climate Integrity to ask that question? Together we’ve started a pledge that we’re asking you to sign? Do you believe its fair for the entities that caused climate change to pay for its effects? Do you think fossil fuel companies have gotten off the hook, despite knowing for decades (#ExxonKnew) about the harm they were causing?

If you agree with us, please sign our pledge. This won’t be the last severe storm Texas endures. It’s time we started planning for the future, instead of rebuilding the mistakes of the past.

Who Pays for Harvey?

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Barr Mansion & The Shades of Green Radio Show Present
The 10th Annual Austin Green Holiday Party

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 from 6-10pm
Hosted and Sponsored by Barr Mansion
10463 Sprinkle Rd., Austin, TX 78754 (www.barrmansion.com)

Advance Tickets $25.00, ($30.00 at door)
(Tickets include snacks, dinner, all drinks and live music)

Co-Hosted by:

Join us for the Austin green mixer of the year, our 10th, can you believe it?  Hosted this year by 18 great organizations (including Public Citizen), this event is a fun place for area environmentalists to come together, celebrate, scheme and prepare for the new year.

Magical music by Seu Jacinto, a group introducing and developing traditional Northeastern Brazilian culture to Central Texas. Seu Jacinto pays homage to the masters of the Brazilian folk musical traditions of forró, coco, cavalo marinho, and many other Northeast Brazilian rhythms.

Experience how our hosts and sponsors Barr Mansion are at the nexus of a merging of the environmental and food movements while enjoying a buffet featuring a variety of their seasonal, all-organic favorites.

It’s been a crazy year so let’s “regroup”, have some fun and get ourselves ready for  2018. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Join Us for the Latest Info on Climate Change 

Come Join Public Citizen and Other Sponsoring Groups in an Evening to Discuss Climate Change

Wednesday, November 8 in Dallas
Brookhaven College, Bldg. H, Spindletop Room
(same room where Sierra Club meets)
at 6:30 pm

Thursday, November 9 in Ft. Worth
Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens
at 6:30 pm

Public Citizen is hosting a statewide tour of twenty cities regarding this important topic.

Hear about the latest data on climate change and how it is affecting Texas.

Was Hurricane Harvey, our horrific flooding and wildfires spurred by changing global temperatures?

What efforts are underway to combat climate change?

Join Us and Our Sponsors for this Event

Feel Free to Forward.

 

 

 

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In which we read from the dictionary, and a Senator throws snowballs.

Image: Eric Berger for Ars Technica.

Texas is experiencing a cold snap. It’s a welcome relief for most of us after 8 months of summer. But after the heat finally retreats, there’s something else we are left to deal with: climate skepticism.

When I was an air quality advocate in Houston, I came to expect an inquiry from a certain AM radio station each year around this time. Each winter it was the same thing: If ‘global warming’ is real, then why is it so cold?

This position was perhaps best embodied in the person of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who famously threw a snowball on the Senate floor in order to make…some sort of point…about climate change?

Putting aside the rhetorical strength of a grown man throwing a snowball, what is behind this ‘argument’ against climate change?

As with many arguments that are free of facts, this one is easily dispatched, in this case with a dictionary. So let’s get to it with some definitions:

weather – the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness.

climate – the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation.

The difference is easy enough to see if you’re not dodging snowballs. Weather is the state of things at a given time; climate is the trend over many decades.

With that simple understanding, it’s easy to see that a few days of weather can’t lead to any conclusions about climate. The trend in climate, over the last decades and since the industrial revolution, has been one of warming temperatures, increasing droughts, and more severe storms (this is why we favor the term ‘climate change’ over the less accurate ‘global warming’). A few days of weather of any given kind can’t change that climate trend.

“But wait!” you say, “Doesn’t that mean that we can’t blame Hurricane Harvey on climate change?”

Well, no, we can’t. And this is reflected in meteorologists’ careful statements about Harvey and its link to climate change. We may get some headlines that say that “It’s a Fact” that climate change made Harvey worse. But those are headlines, written by editors. The truth is far more nuanced, with scientists willing to express only “medium confidence” in a link between recent hurricanes and climate change.

So we can say that Harvey—a historically intense storm—is consistent with what we know about the relationship between storms and climate change. But we can’t say that climate change “caused” Hurricane Harvey.

Similarly, we can’t blame an especially hot day on climate change, just like we can’t point to a cold day as evidence that climate change isn’t real. That’s just not how climate works.

So enjoy the cold weather, but appreciate that we will have fewer cold days in the long term if we don’t reverse the effects of climate change now.

And watch out for snowballs.

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Last week, people gathered at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio to learn about the science of climate change and local climate action planning.  The event was attended by students and other community members who are eager for climate action.

Climate change is happening – now, and Texas is already experiencing more climate disasters than any other state – from historic drought and raging wildfires to historic inland flooding and the devastating wind and rain from Hurricane Harvey. These events are costing us in lost lives, destroyed homes, increased pollution, business and infrastructure and lost economic opportunity.  Climate scientist and UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences professor Kerry Cook presented research that shows that the earth is warming, that it’s warming because of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (primarily carbon dioxide, but also methane and other gases), and how this warming is causing the disasters being felt in Texas.  There’s no question about the science.

We need action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare our communities to be more resilient to the changes that are already happening and will continue to worse.  The Trump administration is busy dismantling policies – including the Clean Power Plan and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles – that would help protect the climate, and deleting scientific information about climate change from government websites.  And the Texas state government is beholden to the fossil fuel industries that are causing climate change.  So it’s left to our local governments to take action.  Which they are doing all around the country.

San Antonio is stepping up to take on the challenge.  CPS Energy – which is owned by the city – has donated $500,000 to the University of Texas at San Antonio to develop a community climate action and adaptation plan.  The university has assembled a team – lead by Associate Professor Hazem Rashed-Ali – that will create an updated greenhouse gas inventory (an accounting of where emissions are coming from) for the San Antonio area, and evaluate and recommend actions that will reduce emissions and make the community more resilient to climate change.  The plan will include actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from every part of the community, from sources that include energy production, solid waste, transportation and industry.

Mr. Rashed-Ali explained how public participation will be incorporated into this process at every step.  A steering committee and technical advisory committees of community members will be integral to the process, as will community events and other opportunities for the public to share ideas and give feedback.  The process is expected to take 18 months and will result in a plan that will be presented to the city council for approval.

Thankfully, the people of San Antonio have elected a pragmatic city council that recognizes the threat that climate changes poses to the community and the opportunity to benefit from embracing solutions.  Actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will improve local air quality, create jobs, expand transportation options, and improve quality of life.  The budget that City Council recently adopted for fiscal year 2018 included funding for a new climate liaison for the Office of Sustainability.  This person (once hired) will work with Doug Melnick, San Antonio’s Chief Sustainability Officer, to keep information flowing between the planning process at UTSA and the city.

San Antonio District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who has a background in climate and air quality science, made it clear that the city can and will take action.  Mayor Nirenberg appointed her as the chair of the Community Health and Equity Committee, making her the City Council lead on the climate action and adaptation plan.  But she doesn’t plan to sit and wait for the plan to be completed before taking action to benefit the community.  She knows there is no time to waste and encouraged the public to continue reaching out the Council about taking action.  This is the kind of open and engaged government that can really get things done.

With our communities under assault from the effects of climate change, it can be easy to get discouraged or even depressed, but Sister Martha Ann Kirk, who is a professor at the University of the Incarnate Word made sure to infuse hope into the conversation.  She rightfully recognizes the incredible human resources that the San Antonio community has and encouraged everyone to embrace the healing power of natural places.  The University of the Incarnate Word is home to just such a place – the Blue Hole.  This connection to nature transcends religious beliefs.  We would all do well to head Sister Kirk’s advice and step out of our busy lives when we feel overwhelmed and reconnect with the Earth we are trying to protect.

The Climate Action SA coalition – of which Public Citizen is a member – has been working for the past year to garner public support for developing a climate action plan.  We’re all pleased that City Council, CPS Energy and UTSA have heard our calls and are taking action.  This is just the start though – the real work lies ahead.  This is a massive undertaking and we need more volunteers.  Maybe you’d like to serve on one of the steering or technical advisory committees, or maybe you want to help with outreach to different parts of the San Antonio community, or maybe you want to research solutions to be considered for the plan.  Whatever your skills are, we’d love to welcome you to participate in this work.

Sign up to get involved.


Video of the event is on the Facebook event page.

Presentations:
by Professor Kerry Cook
by Associate Professor Hazem Rashed-Ali
by Sister Martha Ann Kirk

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