Opinion: We all must rise to the challenge of climate change

We’re feeling the impacts of climate change all around us. Rising temperatures are changing our landscapes and livelihoods. The Great Barrier Reef is suffering from thermal stress that contributes to coral bleaching — more than half of the reef’s coral cover was lost between 1995 and 2017. In July, several European countries were severely affected by floods. Globally, eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast. And in the United States, almost 40% of the population lives in coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding and land erosion.

Nowhere are climate stressors more obvious than in Texas. Our population is expected to nearly double by 2050, and most of the state has warmed between 0.5 and 1.0 degree Fahrenheit during the past century. We are seeing new diseases spread from tropical areas, and we’re experiencing more extreme weather events such as the winter storm that left two-thirds of Texans without power and almost half without water for an average of more than two days in February.

We need to urgently decrease emissions. And Texas needs a statewide climate adaptation plan.

Rising temperatures are caused primarily by an increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. CO2 levels have been rising steadily for more than 100 years due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels, trapping more heat in our atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

A special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes climate scientists from around the world, has said that human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming above preindustrial levels. And global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

This is precisely one of the goals of the United Nations Climate Change conference, or COP26, which brought world leaders together to tackle climate change. Countries are being asked to set ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

We all need to do our part like a true phase-out of coal, accelerating the switch to electric vehicles and investing in renewable energy. There are positive examples around the world of countries that are heading toward a low-carbon future by embracing solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources. Texas produces the most wind energy of any state in the United States. The U.S. as a whole has the second-highest installed wind energy capacity in the world after China. A clean energy revolution must continue to happen across America, underscored by the steady expansion of the U.S. renewable energy sector.

Not only will setting ambitious emission reduction targets help with climate change, it will also lead to cleaner and more resilient cities and infrastructure systems. Energy systems with high percentages of renewables — or even ​​decarbonized power grids — are better able to resist shocks than those heavily dependent on fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

Extreme weather events such as this year’s winter storm are expected, and we need to adapt our infrastructure to withstand such stressors. And we especially need to take into consideration vulnerable communities, those that already suffer from chronic stressors related to toxic pollution, poverty, food insecurity, mixed immigration status and gentrification. States and communities around the country have begun to prepare for climate change by developing their own climate adaptation plans; we have many examples to follow.

Our world leaders need to leave COP26 with actionable goals and with concrete, meaningful and realistic deadlines. And policymakers and leaders in Texas must do their part and adopt and accelerate measures to combat climate change, addressing energy infrastructure and equitable resilience. Only then will we rise to the challenge of climate change.

Leite is an associate professor and the John A. Focht Centennial Teaching Fellow in Civil Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas. She serves on the leadership of a university wide grand challenges initiative, Planet Texas 2050.

Fernanda Leite

Austin American-Statesman

November 26, 2021

Opinion: Looming Climate Disaster Is Obvious. What Are You Doing About It?

Each day the news is reporting extreme weather somewhere on the planet. This week it’s deadly heat in Portland, last month it was Antarctica icebergs larger than Rhode Island, and of course there was the polar vortex that knocked out the Texas power grid and killed hundreds of people in February. Global weirding is upon us, and that’s a very bad sign, because it is three or eight decades ahead of schedule, depending upon which science you study. It is very clear we have a catastrophic future that’s coming much faster than previously predicted.

For the past two years our climate committee in Windsor Park has been engaged in an outreach program visiting Austin neighborhood associations in the effort to build a coalition of neighborhoods requesting immediate action from elected officials. Every other month we livestream a virtual climate conversation with scientists like Katharine Hayhoe, and most recently the subject was ocean level rise in the Gulf. Each show is a different science, with different guests, and it is absolutely clear that everyone we engage is trying hard not to freak out. But the message is clear: All sciences tell us to reduce our carbon output immediately.

The problem is I don’t see much action. There is one hybrid car on my street, parked in my driveway. There are no electric cars. There is one house with solar. There are a few electric mowers. But most everyone is continuing to operate all these machines that we know are creating the problem, and there’s no incentive to do anything about it, from personal to governmental. In my opinion this is a failure of leadership.

The Biden White House is talking large numbers for a vague climate bill, but there’s absolutely no real discussion about a plan, and our window of opportunity is closing. After leading this climate committee and interviewing all these scientists and community leaders, it is clear to me that a massive change in our economy is required. I’ve seen a really good plan that says we need to mobilize 25 million Americans immediately, create a manufacturing base of the electrified future, and set it up in four years (just like we did in World War II). Once we retool and start building, by 2035 we will have constructed a majority of the renewable energy grid, and created 5 million permanent full-time jobs in the green industry, which will quite likely save the middle class.

Unfortunately, the only way we can have a real shot at staving off this looming disaster is for American leadership to wake up and take action, which I don’t see happening with any sense of urgency. There’s a reason we are cynical about Congress passing laws that actually help people or even come close to dealing with something as big as our climate crisis. So what can we do?

Windsor Park is but one of more than 80 organized neighborhood associations in Austin. Collectively we represent a majority of the registered voters in the city. Windsor Park is pitching the idea of an organized response to demand climate action from our elected officials. Imagine all of our congressional representatives receiving scores of climate resolutions from the neighborhoods they represent. Now imagine Austin evolving and thriving in the green future where there’s no pollution, no emissions. But we can’t get there by sitting on our hands and waiting for Congress. Please copy our climate resolution and have it passed by your neighborhood association, and then deliver it to all of your elected officials. Re-word it as you see fit, but get it done and join us in the collective demand for action.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your personal carbon footprint, visit the Windsor Park Carbon Shrinker page on Facebook. Our committee has built an easy to use database that will take your information on 10 different options (electric car, replace light bulbs, etc.) and automatically calculates your reduction of carbon. The database also collects the reductions per person and adds them together. We are hoping to reduce 100 million tons by the end of this year. Your participation is requested.

The end game for climate change is extinction. What are you doing about it?

Martin Luecke is the creator and chair of the Windsor Park Climate Crisis Committee. He is a past president of WPNA, and is currently a member of the Mueller Commission. Luecke has lived in Austin over four decades and raised two children in Windsor Park. He is a four time age group winner of the Barton Springs Diving Championship, and was head cheerleader at The University of Texas in 1984. Luecke is working on his first book titled, Luck and Timing: True Stories of a Small Town Boy.

We appreciate The Austin Chronicle for publishing this letter.