This is the second in a two-part series featuring Dr. Bruce McCarl, Nobel Peace Prize-winning agricultural economist of Texas A & M University, who spoke on global climate change at Earth Day Texas April 25.  In Part 1, McCarl asserts the reality of climate change from a scientists' perspective.  

In Part 2, he discusses Texas’ role in climate change and the dire consequences he sees for the Lone Star State.

Left, Dr. Bruce McCarl of Texas A&M University.

May 6, 2015

BIGGEST IN A BAD WAY

Texas has two claims to fame for our fossil fuel production and use:  Top Oil and Gas Producer in the U. S. and Top Greenhouse Gas Emitter.  

Children in science class know that gases including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and many more, trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, heating up the globe just like a greenhouse – hence greenhouse gases.

Less well-known is the scope of Texas' contribution, depicted for McCarl’s recent Earth Day Texas audience in Environmental Information Agency and EPA graphics. Close to 656 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHG), from power plants, smokestacks, tailpipes, oilfield flares, pipeline leaks, exposed soil fill the big, blue skies every year. California, the next worst polluter, emits only 50 percent of that, about 345 MMT. The remaining 48 states fall far behind.

RIght, Texas is a leader in greenhouse gas emissions as depicted in this graphic, courtesy of Emily Albracht of Texas Tribune.

This makes Texas also a world leader in GHG emissions. And the GHG’s drive the increase in global average temperature of Earth’s surface that is altering weather, ocean temperature and acidity, raising sea level and increasing the frequency of extreme storms, costing the lives of humans and animals in locales from Sandyhook, NY, to the Philippines.

TEMPERATURE LIMIT = CARBON LIMIT

There's a global commitment among 190-plus nations as of 2010 limiting planetary average surface temperature to 2° C over pre-industrial levels. 

However, the safety of that goal is disputed. 

“Projections of conditions we’ll experience with a 2° increase are only projections – no guarantees,” says McCarl. “We're conducting a massive experiment with the planet.  All we know is, there will be consequences."

We’re halfway to 2°C now, showing a 1°C increase. But the GHG in the system are already beyond what many experts held to be manageable, 350 ppm.

“In January 2015, we hit 400 ppm,” states McCarl.

TEXAS IS VERY VULNERABLE

"We will be squeezed,” says McCarl.  

Water supply, population growth and numerous agriculture challenges are among the pressure points.  

Projections show continued increase in "precipitation intensity… but there would be longer periods between rainfall events," along with greater risk of drought, noted McCarl.

"Drought by 2050 will be what it was in 2011. I don't know how Metroplex growth to 25 to 40 million people in 15 to 20 years from now can be facilitated by a water shortage.”

“There will be up to 30 percent less crop production in the Southwest, with rising food costs."   

"The vegetation mix in North Texas will be more like the brush land around South Texas… Remember, in 2011, record heat and drought in Texas caused the loss of 100 million 50-year-old trees." 

Left, McCarl predicts more of Texas will look like South Texas brush land.

Courtesy of TexasBeyondHistory.net

By 2040, the world will see an additional 1° C (or nearly 2° F) “almost inevitably,” based on the CO2  already aloft, says McCarl. “By 2100, we'll stay at (a total) 2° C increase only if we try hard. If we continue the status quo, the world will experience a 4° C rise – or almost 8° F.”  

"If society decides to control climate change, Texas will be a top target for reductions in GHG, because our emissions are so high.” 

CHANCES FOR CHANGE

McCarl describes four types of responses to climate change. In a nutshell they are: “Do little and live with it;" mitigate by reducing its future extent, via cuts in GHG emissions; adapt by developing strategies to reduce the impact of changes; and continue to monitor changes and collect information.

Above, Predicted sea level rise on Texas coast. Graphic courtesy of Emily Albracht of Texas Tribune.

"With likely another 1°C  (~ 2 F degrees) in average surface temperature in the next 25 years" before any limits to emissions can show effects, "adaptation is the game we must pursue strongly,” McCarl asserts.  

He lists mitigation possibilities from agriculture, forestry and biofuels.  He also sees options for reducing carbon footprint through GHG trading markets, planning and mobilization of the energy industry. Detailing these was beyond the time limit for his talk and space allotted for this article.

OBSTACLES TO ACTION

Perceived Cost and Values  Any expenditure for mitigation, adaption or monitoring involves balancing against costs of other social projects.  

"It's a major issue, how much we invest in things now,” says McCarl. "If we do all to feather our current nest, our children and grandchildren may suffer."

At what point do the perceived economies of postponing action on climate change result in far greater costs? "Now," says IPCC' s March 18 report conclusion.

Time Scales and Priorities. It takes 100 years for CO2 to dissipate.  

“It takes 400 years for the glaciers and oceans to come to equilibrium,” says McCarl…

…”but our political processes are oriented to four-to-five or 10-year spans.”

HOPE

Eight hundred scientists have delivered their 10-pound letter to the world, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report.* They've included a special summary for policymakers.   

Careful observers such as Dr. McCarl have identified critical factors that could inform decisions to ease our transition to a climatically altered world and to avoid its harsher possibilities. 

The most hopeful thing would be if someone is listening. And we take action.

MORE INFO

•Latest, authoritative source on climate change: 

Five weeks prior to McCarl’s Earth Day Texas talk, the scientific body within which McCarl collaborates, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had released the last piece of its latest findings on the state of our planet – the concluding installment of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  AR5 was written by more than 800 scientists from 80 countries, assessing more than 30,000 scientific papers on changes happening worldwide. They have been working since 1988, to discover what’s really happening with climate change and let the rest of us know.

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report forms a backdrop for McCarl’s observations on climate effects on agriculture and economics in Texas. 

Press release and links to Synthesis Report of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC: 

http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ar5/150318_SYR_final_publication...

http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/press_information.shtml

 

About food, farm and resource issues:

Choices, publication of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association

http://www.choicesmagazine.org/choices-magazine


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