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Consequences of Global Warming in Texas


The Planet is Warming

The scientific record from global temperature readings over the last century leaves no doubt that the earth is warming. Surface temperatures have risen about 1.0ºF in 100 years.  The 1990’s was the warmest decade of the last century, and 1998, 1999, and 2000 were three of the hottest years on record.

Expected Impacts of Climate Change

The latest findings by the IPCC project that precipitation patterns will change – including the frequency of extreme events like floods and droughts.   As a result, water supply and demand are likely to change.  Sea-level rise will add to stresses coastal communities already face, including erosion and storm damage.  Natural ecosystems – already facing human-caused stresses such as habitat destruction and species loss – may not be able to adapt fast enough to keep up with a rapidly changing climate. 

The latest IPCC report also strengthened its conclusion about the role of human activities and global warming, finding that human-generated emissions “have contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years.”

Texas and Global Warming

In 1991, legislative leaders in Texas assembled the Joint Select Committee on Toxic Air Emissions and the Greenhouse Effect to study the statewide effects of global warming and prudent responses.  After months of testimony and research, the committee’s final interim report to the 72nd Legislature predicted how climate change could:

  • Increase storm activity
  • Increase coastal erosion
  • Threaten coastal fisheries
  • Increase drought conditions and threaten water supplies
  • Increase the duration and severity of heat spells

Since 1991, several statewide studies have supported the committee’s findings utilizing more sophisticated models.  Today, a decade after the committee’s report, Texas has failed to develop a statewide action plan to address global warming.  Yet, over half of US states have developed their own plans.

The latest statewide study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America finds that in the next 100 years, summer temperatures in Texas could increase by 3-7ºF and minimum winter temperatures could increase from 3ºF to about 10ºF.   The UCS/ESA study also finds that the Texas gulf coast will experience accelerated sea level rise, lower groundwater availability and intensified weather events like droughts and floods.

Texas Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The root cause of global warming is the growing amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.   Greenhouse gas emissions in Texas are the highest in the nation.  In fact, if Texas was its own separate country, it would rank seventh in the world in carbon dioxide emissions. 

Greenhouse gas emissions are closely linked to energy consumption.   In 1999, Texans consumed about 11.5 quadrillion British Thermal Units (Quad BTU’s) of fuels and electricity to meet their demands in residential and commercial buildings, industry and transportation.   This represents over 12 percent of national energy consumption.  Since the Texas population is about seven percent of the national population, its energy use per capita is about 60 percent higher than the national energy intensity. 

Texas electricity generation is dominated by natural gas and coal (48 and 38 percent respectively), with nuclear at about 10 percent.   In the US about one half of electricity is produced by coal, about 20 percent by nuclear energy (US EPA, 2001).  

Texas carbon dioxide emissions reflect its overall energy use and fuel mix, about 164 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE) in 1999, over 9 percent of total national emissions of 1840 MMTCE.   Thus, Texas emits about 8.2 MMTCE per capita, well above the nation’s approximately 6.5 MMTCE per capita.   Between 1990 and 1999, total greenhouse gas emissions in Texas increased from 149 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE) to 164 MMTCE, a rise of 11 percent. (US EPA, 2001)

The overall energy use in Texas is projected to increase by 36 percent over the next 20 years, a growth rate of 1.5 percent per year.   Unless Texas significantly alters its fuel mix towards lower emitting fossil fuels or renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to continue to rise rapidly.


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