The climate change deniers of Texas can cling to their position if they want, but in the future it may cost the state tens of millions of dollars in lost weather hazard mitigation money from the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is holding out this money as a carrot, a lure, to get Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas officials to embrace climate change as a reality and plan for it.
FEMA earlier this month released new rules that will require Texas to factor in climate change as it plans for weather disasters such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires. If Texas does not do so after the rules take effect in March 2016, the state stands to lose millions in federal mitigation money. Inside Climate News reported that the new rule will especially impact states with governors who deny the existence of climate change.
“This could potentially become a major conflict for several Republican governors,” said Barry Rabe, an expert on the politics of climate change at the University of Michigan. “We aren’t just talking about coastal states.” Climate change affects droughts, rainfall and tornado activity. Fracking is being linked to more earthquakes, he said. “This could affect state leaders across the country.”
Among those who could face a difficult decision are Republican Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Greg Abbott of Texas and Pat McCrory of North Carolina—all of whom have denied man-made climate change or refused to take action. The states they lead face immediate threats from climate change.
Abbott is not a total climate change denier. He’s more of a climate change caused by humans doubter. When asked for a position last year by the San Antonio Express-News editorial board, Abbott gave an answer that amounted to the climate is changing on the one hand but we don’t know if it was caused by human activity on the other:
“As a matter of historical fact, the climate changes. Long before fossil fuel was ever discovered and used on a large-scale industrial basis, the earth’s climate changed substantially on numerous occasions. However, many scientists believe that certain human activities impact the climate. Others dispute the extent to which any activity has a particular level of influence on the climate, which is why this matter needs to continue to be investigated. We must be good guardians of our Earth, but we must base our decisions on peer-reviewed scientific inquiry, free from political demagogues using climate change as an excuse to remake the American economy.”
With only a cursory reading of the new rules, I have trouble determining exactly how much climate change denial could cost the state. And it also is unclear whether the planning can just pay lip service to climate change or does the state have to plan for those areas that might be submerged merely by sea level rise. The potential loss of federal funds is huge, however. The state in 2010 received $170 million in Hazard Mitigation Assistance from FEMA; $65 million in 2011; $34.6 million in 2012; $53.3 million in 2012; and $18.4 million in 2013, according to figures provided me by FEMA. Abbott’s office currently is studying the new rule to determine what it may mean for the state.
Hurricane season begins on June 1, the same day the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn sine die. State legislative leaders need to consider this FEMA policy this year, because it will be in effect before the Legislature meets again in regular session in 2017.
Just a few things to consider as a starting point. One 2013 study determined that 103 Texas cities are in danger of having at least 25 percent of their land under water by 2070 due to rising sea levels. That includes cities such as Galveston and Corpus Christi, among others. There were more than 7,000 Texas wildfires in 2013. Record wildfires in 2011 burned almost four million acres. Click on Galveston in the Surging Seas report and move the slider to witness what a 10-foot storm surge would do to the island.
Although the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas coast is only expected to rise about six inches by 2030, that rise adds to the havoc of major hurricanes. A 2010 study by Entergy Corp. and America’s Wetland Foundation predicted the effects of a major hurricane combined with rising sea level could cause potential damage of $330 billion to Texas by 2030. The study also found Texas lagging behind Louisiana and Florida in adapting to potential sea level rise.
Those who claim climate change is a hoax or not real are swimming upstream against the vast majority of scientific research. Their stand strikes me as being about as realistic as the priests who put Galileo under house arrest in 1615 for the heresy of claiming the earth spins around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth. But I also am disturbed by FEMA’s new mitigation rule. It turns the people and businesses endangered by weather hazards into pawns in the federal government’s efforts to force Abbott and other state leaders to embrace climate change as an official state policy. That is life imitating art, reminding me of fictional President Frank Underwood’s ill-conceived plan in Netflix’s House of Cards to divert FEMA money from disaster preparedness to a jobs program purely for political reasons.