By State Representative Eric Johnson
With a death toll of at least 103 people with a price tag of $125 billion in damage, Hurricane Harvey was the most devastating and costly natural disaster the State of Texas has ever endured. Although Hurricane Harvey occurred two years ago, the impacted areas are still in recovery.
A report commissioned by Governor Greg Abbott last year warned that changing climate will only make disasters like Hurricane Harvey more likely in the future. Despite this, the Legislature has failed to adequately prepare for natural disasters and has consequently put the lives of Texans at risk. The 86thTexas Legislature must develop comprehensive strategies to address the devastating effects of a changing climate to ensure that the state is prepared for natural disasters of this scale in the future.
Since 1980, Texas has experienced ninety-five extreme weather events, more than any other state in the nation. The smallest of these events caused $1 billion in damage, with many costing much more. Whether it be blizzards in North Texas, tornadoes in the Panhandle hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, or droughts like that of the 2010-2013 crisis that spanned the entire state, extreme weather events affect every corner of Texas.
These recurring disasters can take a toll on Texas’ leading industries, such as agriculture. Drought conditions will lead to a 10% decrease in Texas’ agricultural yields by the year 2100. But we do not have to wait until then to see the effects of a changing climate.
In 2011, the driest year in Texas history, the Great Plains region directly lost $10 billion in agricultural yields due to weather conditions. According to a United States Department of Agriculture report, these droughts will only get longer and drier, making Texas susceptible to some of the worst droughts in the world.
Texas is also affected by sea levels rising due to a changing climate. In certain areas of the Gulf Coast, more than a football field of land is lost every hour due to erosion from the rising waters. Not only do property values decrease as homes are lost to a shrinking coast, but the tourism, farming and fishing industry on the coast are also irreparably harmed.
The 86thTexas Legislature needs to take every possible step to ensure that the state is prepared for future severe weather events. That is why I have authored House Bill 100, a bill that would require state agencies to include information about weather patterns, water availability, climate variability and other key environmental information collected by our tax payer-funded state climatologist in their biennial strategic plans. I filed versions of this bill during previous legislative sessions, and in 2015, the bill made it all the way to the House floor, where it died. I hope that in the aftermath of the costliest natural disaster in our state’s history, Hurricane Harvey, the Legislative will finally pass this common sense measure.