The climate change debate appears to center on whether the phenomenon is man-made or a natural cycle. Deniers use the uncertainty surrounding the exact causes as their excuse to ignore the array of science that all tells us the same thing – the climate is, in fact, changing.
With a changing climate come challenges. Challenges that we have a moral imperative to address. We need to set aside the arguments surrounding cause and focus on adaptation to a changing world in which the poor and vulnerable will surely suffer the most.
Those most vulnerable to a changing climate are the children, elderly, and low-income residents of the region. Members of these populations are less likely to be able to afford air conditioning repair/replacement costs, more likely to live in an area with an inadequate tree canopy, generally more often exposed to poor air quality, and/or more prone to the effects of airborne pollutants – children are especially vulnerable in this regard. It is for these reasons that climate change preparation is not just about the environment, but important in regards to social responsibility and justice.
Adaptation planning calls on us to accept that the climate is shifting and that we must prepare. Adaptation does not require us to know the exact causes of these changes or the exact extent to which changes will occur- but it asks us to look around and open our eyes and hearts to the fact that dry areas are becoming dryer and wet areas wetter, hot areas hotter and cold regions warmer. Drought devastates the livelihood of the farmer, ocean acidification lessens the catch for the fisherman, flooding and fires destroy homes and lives. Texas saw record breaking droughts in 2011, with the year being the state’s driest year on record. Animals are going extinct at an alarming rate, while others are trying desperately to find a way to survive.
I do not say any of this in order to instill fear, as fear does little to motivate from my experience. I state all of this because it is our duty as conscious human beings to do something, to help our neighbors and conserve the natural world. We are called from a deeper place to care and arguing with one another will do little to move us forward.
Adaptation planning is necessary to assess areas of vulnerability and develop goals and objectives to address those areas. According the Georgetown Climate Center, of Georgetown University, Texas does not have a state-led adaptation plan in place, but the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGA-C) finalized theirs in 2008. Other cities leading the way include Austin and Dallas. The City of San Antonio has a unique opportunity to follow suit and help lead the state towards the development of a statewide plan. However, working alone will do very little to help our neighbors. Therefore, San Antonio should join forces with neighboring governments to assess the needs of the region and begin working towards a comprehensive adaptation plan.
In February of 2016, the city released their climate vulnerability assessment as part of the SA Tomorrow Plan. While this was a huge first step, many of the important sustainability measures meant to address these areas of vulnerability were significantly altered, or removed, prior to its final passing by city council on August 11th. While public pressure resulted in the reinstatement of some of the measures, the city essentially has no ability to enforce them since the term “regulate” was slashed from the entire document at the request of special interests. We had an opportunity to improve air quality, reduce energy use, protect our water quality and quantity, and make low-impact development the standard- but we dropped the ball. We won’t move forward as a city, or region, so long as we are determined to stay put.
Though progress is still needed, San Antonio has a lot to be proud of. We lead the way in the state for solar capacity, which says a lot about what area residents value. As a whole, we value a clean energy future that protects our natural resources. Advanced Solar owner, Don Dickey, recently announced their intent to offer special rebates to San Antonio residents of Districts 1-5, regardless of home value, and all CPS Energy customers with a home valued at, or less than $100,000. The reasoning given behind this move is to encourage more solar use in low-income neighborhoods and further increase the solar capacity of the area. As we increase this capacity, we will continue to bring more jobs to the area and open additional doorways to green careers.
Time and time again, area residents have shown a commitment to a greener future. It is absolutely necessary for the sake of our children’s future that we work together on a comprehensive plan that protects the water, air, and land for generations to come. We have taken the initial steps and fallen short when called to act, but it is not too late to begin again with the development of a comprehensive climate change and adaptation plan. The plan should be developed in conjunction with important stakeholders across all sectors- especially those most vulnerable- and thoroughly address how we will adapt in the face of a changing climate with measurable, enforceable objectives. Let’s build on what we have already begun and continue to make progress.
Top image: A panoramic view of East-Central Texas on Sept. 6, 2011, highlights numerous smoke plumes caused by wildfires burning across the state. Photo courtesy of NASA.