Environment leaders talk about future of Texas resources

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Photo Credit: Veronica Jones | Daily Texan Staff

The population in Texas is expected to nearly double by 2070, according to Texas’ 2017 State Water Plan, and that means a not so excellent future for a state with already strained resources and vulnerability to natural disasters.

On Wednesday night, urban planning and environment experts discussed the future of Texas through the research initiative Planet Texas 2050 at the Paramount Theatre 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.

In order to mitigate the negative effects of population growth and climate change, Planet Texas 2050 researchers plan 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.

UT President Gregory Fenves kicked off the event by making a statement emphasizing the need for Texas to adapt to the pressures of the future and UT’s role in helping to plan urban strategies to become more sustainable through Planet Texas 2050.

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.

“Energy is wealth,” Webber said. “Texas matters, as it is one of the largest producers of resources such as oil, natural gas, wind and electricity. It seems you can’t get anywhere without a Texas drop of fuel.”

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.

“Let’s not replace all 500,000 cars that were wiped out by Hurricane Harvey,” Webber added. “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 added that Texas is a particularly vulnerable state to the effects of climate change because of its dense population and inherent exposure to natural disasters. She said Texas pays the most out of all U.S. states on events like hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and many other natural threats.

Carter, who specializes in urban revitalization in the Bronx in New York, said local changes are necessary for future preparedness.

“Discrepancies in environmental equality go on to create downstream social, economic, and atmospheric consequences,” Carter told The Daily Texan.

A specialist in people empowerment, Carter said social cohesiveness is important for bettering the quality of a community using her work in the Bronx, such as building community hubs, offering technology jobs and pushing for eco-friendly practices.

The panelists were overall optimistic for the future of Texas while still emphasizing the intensity of the challenges ahead.

“We need to give people equal access to resources,” Webber said. “This is in a state where we struggle to give people equal access to bathrooms.”