As a native Texan, I grew up knowing the devastation Gulf storms could bring. I remember watching the water rise closer and closer to our front step during Tropical Storm Allison. I remember sitting on the highway with millions of others as we ran from Hurricane Rita. I remember after Hurricane Ike seeing boats washed up and stranded next to the Galveston Causeway.
But I also remember being told the worst storms only come around every once in a while. Back then, Allison and Ike were practically the worst-case scenarios. That is no longer true.
In the two years I have lived in Lake Jackson, I have witnessed a region ravaged by two 100-plus-year flood events. After volunteering at a local shelter, I heard one family resign themselves to the fact that, about a year after rebuilding from the flood of 2016, they are gearing up to start all over again after the hurricane of 2017.
Though I would like to be hopeful, I have no confidence at all in telling them this will never happen again. Who is to say these 100-year floods are not turning into every decade floods? Or worse?
Our metrics of what constitutes a once-in-a-lifetime storm no longer reflect the true nature of our climate. Because our Gulf waters are so much hotter than what meteorologists consider normal, every storm that reaches the Gulf of Mexico has more energy, more fuel, to evaporate even more water that will end up dumped on our shores.
Our climate is changing, and if we do not wish for more Hurricane Harveys to destroy what we hold dear here in Brazoria County, we need to confront these changes and do what we can to stop them from happening.
We should take seriously voices from NASA to ExxonMobil to 22 sitting Republican members of Congress who have signed the Republican Climate Resolution. They all agree climate change is a risk and its biggest driver is human emissions of heat-trapping gases, principally carbon dioxide.
The reason this scientific understanding has been so hotly debated is because those emissions come primarily from burning petrochemicals, a primary Texas export and historically the driver of our nation’s economy. We’ve come to believe emissions are required for economic progress. But can America’s economy continue to lead without sacrificing our coastal cities to record-breaking hurricanes every couple of years?
The answer can be yes. Over the past 10 to 15 years, our economy has grown while, for the first time since the dawn of the industrial revolution, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped. As carbon-reducing technologies have all become cheaper and more effective, we are seeing a low-carbon economy is within economic grasp. However, this process is unlikely to reduce emissions fast enough on its own to ensure Harvey really does remain a 500-year flood event.
Fortunately, there’s near-unanimity on a solution. Among economists surveyed by the NYU School of Law, a resounding 98 percent agreed a market-driven approach to pricing carbon could achieve significant reduction in carbon emissions while spurring economic development. Native Texans, including James Baker, former Secretary of Treasury under President Reagan, and Rex Tillerson, current Secretary of State, have expressed similar support.
And this is where the importance of everyday citizens comes in. It’s as important that folks donate their time and manpower to support victims of Harvey as it is that they tell their members of Congress they can win the next election by taking action to address climate risks.
Over the past two months, a new chapter of the organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby was formed in Lake Jackson by concerned citizens. Our team is joining thousands of Texans across the political spectrum to inspire and create the political will for climate solutions. We will be engaging citizens, chambers of commerce, city officials, faith leaders, our members of Congress and others to endorse a Texas-friendly, market-driven emissions solution.
We can’t undo Harvey, but we can work together to lessen the likelihood that we have to suffer through anything like it for at least another 500 years.
Elizabeth Conger of Lake Jackson is a process engineer with Dow Chemical Co. and a member of the Lake Jackson chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.