Is Texas the state most vulnerable to global climate change?


John Mashey occasionally graces these pages with his comments — a cool, reasoned head on hot issues like global warming/global climate change, despite his history in computers or maybe because of it (which would put the lie to the idea that computer programming explains why so many computer programmers are wacky intelligent design advocates).

Mashey offered a comment over at RealClimate on a post about hoaxer and science parodist Christopher Monckton — a comment you ought to read if  you think about Texas ever, and especially if you like the place.  It’s comment #413 on that Gigantor blog.

Monckton wrote a letter to the New York Times and attached to it a graph.  The graph, it turns out, probably would need to be classified in the fiction section of a library or book store, were it a book.  Much discussion occurs, absent any appearance by Monckton himself who does not defend his graphs by pointing to sources that might back what his graphs say, usually.

In short, the post and the extensive comments shed light on the problems of veracity which plague so many who deny either that warming is occurring, or that air pollution from humans might have anything to do with it, or that humans might actually be able to do anything to mitigate the changes or the damage, or that humans ought to act on the topic at all.

So I’ve stolen Mashey’s comment lock, stock and barrel, to give it a little more needed highlight.

If you follow environmental issues much, you probably know Count Christopher Monckton as a man full of braggadocio and bad information on climate.  He is known to have worked hard to hoodwink the U.S. Congress with his claims of expertise and policy legitimacy, claiming to be a member of the House of Lords though he is not (some climate change deniers in Congress appear to have fallen for the tale).  He pops up at denialist conferences, accuses scientists of peddling false information, and he is a shameless self-promoter.

After much discussion, Mashey turned his attention to claims that Texans don’t know better than Monckton, and other things; Mashey notes that denialists cite Monckton’s performance at a conservative political show in Texas, instead having paid attention to real climate scientists who were meeting just up the road, for free:

AGW’s impact depends on where you live
OR
Texas is Not Scotland, even when a Scottish peer visits

1) SCOTLAND
Viscount Monckton lives in the highlands of Scotland (Carie, Rannoch, 57degN, about the same as Juneau, AK, but warmer from Gulf Stream.)

a) SEA LEVEL, STORMS
Most of Scotland (esp the highlands) is well above sea level, and in any case, from Post-Glacial Rebound, it’s going up. [Not true of Southern England.]

b) PRECIPITATION
Scotland gets lots of regular precipitation. From that, he likely gets ~1690mm or more rainfall/year, noticeably more than Seattle or Vancouver.

Scotland has complex, variable weather systems, with more rain in West than in East, but has frequent precipitation all year.

c) TEMPERATURE
Scotland’s climate would likely be better with substantial warming. See UK Met Office on Scotland, which one might compare with NASA GISS Global Annual Mean Surface Air Temperature Change. Scotland average maximum temperatures are 18-19C in the summer, i.e., in most places it might occasionally get up to 70F, although of course it varies by geography. +3C is no big deal. The record maximum was 32.9C (91F), set in 2003. Maybe there is yet a good future for air-conditioning/cooling vendors.

If one does a simple linear regression on both sets of annual data, one finds that SLOPE(Scotland) = .0071C/year, SLOPE(world) = .0057C/year, i.e., Scotland is warming slightly faster than the world as a whole.

d) AGRICULTURE
The combination of b) and c) is, most likely *good* for agriculture in Scotland. There is plenty of rain, and higher temperatures mean less snow and a longer growing season. Great!

In addition, the British geoscientist/vineyard archaeologist Richard Selley thinks that while it may be too hot for good vineyards in Southern England by 2080, it will be fine for some areas of Scotland.
Future Loch Ness Vineyard: great!

e) OIL+GAS, ENERGY
Fossil fuel production (North Sea oil&gas) is very important to the Scotland economy. Wikipedia claims oil-related employment is 100,000 (out of total population of about 5M).

Scotland has not always been ecstatic to be part of the UK.

2) TEXAS
The Viscount Monckton spoke for Young Conservatives of Texas, April 28 @ Texas A&M, which of course has a credible Atmospheric Sciences Department. Of course, many of them were unable to hear the Viscount because they were in Austin at CLIMATE CHANGE Impacts on TEXAS WATER, whose proceedings are online. See especially Gerald North on Global Warming and TX Water.

Monckton delivered his message: “no worries, no problems” which might well fit Scotland just fine, at least through his normal life expectancy.

The message was delivered to Texans typically in their 20s, many of whom would expect to see 2060 or 2070, and whose future children, and certainly grandchildren, might well see 2100.

Texas is rather different from Scotland, although with one similarity (oil+gas).

a) SEA LEVEL, STORMS

Texas has a long, low coastline in major hurricane territory.
Brownsville, TX to Port Arthur is a 450-mile drive, with coastal towns like Corpus Christi, Galveston, and Port Arthur listed at 7 feet elevations. The center of Houston is higher, but some the TX coast has subsidence issues, not PGR helping it rise. The Houston Ship Canal and massive amounts of infrastructure are very near sea level. More people live in the Houston metropolitan area + rest of the TX coast than in all of Scotland.

Of course, while North Sea storms can be serious, they are not hurricanes. IF it turns out that the intensity distribution of hurricanes shifts higher, it’s not good, since in the short term (but likely not the long term), storm surge is worse than sea level rise.

Hurricane Rita (2005) and Hurricane Ike (2008) both did serious damage, but in some sense, both “missed” Houston. (Rita turned North, and hit as a Category 3; Ike was down to Category 2 before hitting Galveston).

Scotland: no problem
TX: problems already

b) RAINFALL
Texas is very complex meteorologically, and of course, it’s big, but as seen in the conference mentioned above (start with North’s presentation), one might say:

– The Western and Southern parts may well share in the Hadley-Expansion-induced loss of rain, i.e., longer and stronger droughts, in common with NM, AZ, and Southern CA. Many towns are dependent on water in rivers that come from the center of the state, like the Brazos.

– The NorthEast part will likely get more rain. [North’s comment about I35 versus I45 indicates uncertainty in the models.]

– Rain is likely to be more intense when it happens, but droughts will be more difficult.

Extreme weather in TX already causes high insurance costs, here, or here.

Scotland: no problem
Texas: problems.

c) TEMPERATURE

Texas A&M is ~31degN, rather nearer the Equator than 57degN.
Wikipedia has a temperature chart. It is rather warmer in TX, but is also more given to extremes.

Scotland: +3C would be dandy,
Texas: +3C not so dandy.

d) AGRICULTURE
Between b) and c), less water in dry places, more water in wet places, more variations in water, and higher temperatures (hence worse evaporation/precipitation difference) are not good news for TX agriculture, or so says Bruce McCarl, Professor of Agricultural Economics at TAMU.

For audiences unfamiliar with Texas A&M, the “A” originally stood for Agriculture, and people are called Aggies. One might assume that agricultural research is valued.
Politically, “Aggie-land” would not be considered a hotspot of hyper-liberal folks prone to becoming climate “alarmists”.

Scotland: warmer, great! Wine!
Texas: serious stress.

d) OIL+GAS, ENERGY
Here, there is more similarity: fossil fuels are economically important.

On the other hand, Scotland was settled long before the use of petroleum, and while places like the highlands are very sparse, cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow are relatively dense, and many villages are quite walkable. Warmer temperatures mean *lower* heating costs.

Texas has naturally developed in a very different style, and with forthcoming Peak Oil, this may be relevant. In 2006, according to EIA, Texas was #1 in energy consumption, 5th per-capita (after AK, WY, LA, ND) and uses 2X/capita of states like NY or CA. Some of that is inherent in different climate and industry.

Sprawling development in a state with water problems, subject to dangerous weather extremes, and already seriously-dependent on air-conditioning, may end being expensive for the residents.

Scotland: makes money from fossil energy, but it was mostly built without it. Warmer temperatures reduce energy use.
Texas: already uses ~2.5-3X higher energy/capita, compared to Scotland. Warmer temperatures likely raise energy use.

3. SUMMARY

Gerald North’s talk ended by asking:
“Is Texas the most vulnerable state?”

That sounds like an expert on trains, hearing one coming in the distance, standing on the tracks amidst a bunch of kids, trying to get them off the tracks before there’s blood everywhere.

On the other side, someone safely away from tracks keeps telling the kids that experts are wrong, there is no danger, so they can play there as long as they like.

You will be well informed if you also read Mashey’s comments at #120 and #132.

13 Responses to Is Texas the state most vulnerable to global climate change?

  1. […] Is Texas the state most vulnerable to climate change? (Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub) Share this:TwitterStumbleUponDiggRedditFacebookEmailLinkedInPinterestTumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

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  2. marie says:

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  3. […] “Is Texas the state most vulnerable to climate change?“ […]

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Oh, my.

    As for Texas: It doesn’t make any difference what region you point out. Different places have different expected levels of sea level rise and will need to cope in different ways. But none of them will have to cope with exaggerated meter or multi-meter sea level rises in the next 100 years, despite anything you, John Mashey, Al Gore or James Hansen have to say about it. All you have to do is read the best evidence that John Mashey could provide to the contrary and my point will be clear.

    We’re a few hundred miles from the sea here in Dallas. FEMA is redoing the flood maps for Dallas, so the mayor is encouraging everyone to buy flood insurance now before the rates skyrocket.

    We can argue about whether the recent spate of monster hurricanes Texas endured is a direct result of the warming, or if it’s only their strength that comes from warming — three of the monsters were whipped puppies coming across Florida or Cuba, but picked up heat coming across the Gulf, walloping New Orleans, Houston twice, and Beaumont. Dallas is lucky compared to cities that have had two 500-year floods in the last decade. We can argue, but the insurance actuaries aren’t into gambling. So all Texans are paying the rate increases, and the Army Corps of Engineers is relooking at every levee in America for flood resistance ability, forcing cities to scramble. A modest rise in oceans is still a lot of water, a lot larger heat sink, and with the Moon’s exaggerated effects on tides in the Gulf, the actuaries are betting we’ll see a lot more storms, a lot more serious storms, and there will be huge amounts of damage.

    It’s only a few centimeters — but do you know how many gallons it takes to raise the Gulf of Mexico a few centimeters? And do you have any idea how much heat that amount of water holds? And do you know how quickly that heat gets sucked up into a cyclonic storm, making the storm more powerful?

    Houston’s inland a good distance. But the rise is slight. A few centimeters will take out 5,000 freshwater wells. A few centimeters means tens of thousands more acres will be flooded in a category III hurricane, double that for a category IV.

    It’s just a few centimeters. Boston caved in, threw their hands up, when their hurricane blocked the channel — lemons and lemonade, right?

    Tough to make lemonade when the water’s nonpotable.

    But more importantly, a population of free, self motivated people with a strong, robust, free economy will be better able to cope than a population of people trapped in a top-heavy, top-directed, sluggish economy. If you let them, the people of Boston will cope, the people of California will cope, the people of Texas will cope. They do not need you or John Mashey to exaggerate their problems, then solve those problems for them.

    You’ve never heard of the problems of the <a href="http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/COASZON.HTML“>Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 — probably older than you are. It’s voluntary. Where states volunteered, they got hammered by property owners who didn’t want to cooperate to prevent such damage. See the Granite Rock case — where the owners of the land decided that cooperative action under the Coastal Zone Management Act was more than they could bear, all the way to the Supreme Court. This doesn’t bode well for any action involving private property owners. By the way, the Texas legislature just passed a law making it tougher for local governments to use eminent domain to take the necessary actions. Surely you are aware that conservatives have lined up action in more than 30 state legislatures and the federal Congress, specifically to avoid the sorts of actions that might save Boston Harbor.

    How do you plan to buck Rush Limbaugh?

    Plus, with the Bush Bankrupt Nation on our hands, we don’t have a robust economy and may not get one for another two decades. When FDR faced similar environmental disaster he used the power of government and deficit spending to plant millions of acres of forest, build tens of thousands of soil conservation projects, and fight soil erosion. Republicans fight each of those measures today — saying “we can’t afford it.”

    What action has Boston taken, by the way? Anything? The EPA report I cited earlier is a few years old, but Boston didn’t have anything going then. What is Boston doing now? EPA issued the warning that harbors like Boston needed to get going on planning to stay ahead of the curve. How is Boston’s planning coming today?

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    So, apparently, Boston’s experience doesn’t count as evidence of man’s ability to push back against the ocean. Why? Because their actions were motivated by impure thoughts.

    Glad to find it. I’ve responded at your blog.

    1. What you’ve shown does not demonstrate much of man’s ability to push back against the see. Filling in mudflats isn’t difficult. It wasn’t done as a corporate action against anything, but piecemeal for commercial reasons with quick ROIs. Fighting climate change requires corporate action, not piecemeal, with long and generally small ROIs.

    2. The only example of climatic or weather change we have in your 200 year series is the 1938 hurricane’s dumping so much silt that it turned an island into a peninsula. Humans built more seawall and filled in more. If your point was that we can roll over and let nature take her course, your example makes that point.

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  6. tommoriarty says:

    Ed,

    You say “…you have never responded to my main argument, which was that the impoundment and filling of new land was done for commercial reasons mostly, and never because of rising water.”

    In fact, I have responded to this line of argument, see here.

    As for Texas: It doesn’t make any difference what region you point out. Different places have different expected levels of sea level rise and will need to cope in different ways. But none of them will have to cope with exaggerated meter or multi-meter sea level rises in the next 100 years, despite anything you, John Mashey, Al Gore or James Hansen have to say about it. All you have to do is read the best evidence that John Mashey could provide to the contrary and my point will be clear.

    But more importantly, a population of free, self motivated people with a strong, robust, free economy will be better able to cope than a population of people trapped in a top-heavy, top-directed, sluggish economy. If you let them, the people of Boston will cope, the people of California will cope, the people of Texas will cope. They do not need you or John Mashey to exaggerate their problems, then solve those problems for them.

    Best Regards
    ClimateSanity

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  7. opit says:

    Mongoose
    With a line like that, you portray yourself as another mock authority warning of party disloyalty. Pity. At least 2 people whose opinion I respect – unlike some arrogant souls – have made me consider that there is more to the case against consensus science than government disinformation.
    This topic has come up on the Care 2 news survey more than once. First, may I suggest you give them a look. I’ve only been around there for 2 or 3 months and have found the experience a treat. Secondly, the last go round of sea level change was pegged at 10′ worldwide but 12.5′ around NYC and San Francisco because of uneven distribution towards the Equator and rebounding compressed land under ice caps : which also changed predictions of rise as a result of the projected melting of an Antarctic field.
    If you look near the bottom of the Wikipedia citation there is a world map outlining different amounts of rise recorded worldwide
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise
    Regardless of the accuracy of any of that, there are other problems complicating matters.
    Infrastructure maintenance failures were suddenly a concern after Katrina – when government policies were starkly revealed as ranging from inadequate to disastrous. Levees.org is meant as a monitoring website. Regrettably, neither it nor International Rivers seem up to the job of promoting their information.
    As for myself, I am not a scientist but rather a surfer of not comprehensively understood stories. Even so, I decided to run an introduction to the topic to supplement my Links section on Water. Since my circulation is poor, I have doubts about how that will work out – but did my best at pointing out alarming coincidences.
    http://my.opera.com/oldephartte/blog/27-feb-end-of-an-era
    Flow the Movie
    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/09/flow–the-movie.html
    And JanforGore on Current TV is a remarkable resource. Just follow her profile to find her posts and website.

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  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Referring to sea level rise at Boston, Ed says in the above comment “It assumes that 12-inch rise in ocean levels is no problem, based on what data, I can’t figure.” Well Ed, the data required for you to do your figuring has been pointed out to you multiple times at this point. But here it is again. Note the approximately 23 cm sea level rise in Boston over the last 90 years. That translates into a 9 inch rise in 90 years or, extrapolating, 10 inches in 100 years. Note also, it is quite clear to see, that the sea level rise rate in Boston 90 years ago was greater than it is today.

    You have evidenced that the sea rose. You have provided not a whiff of a scintilla of an iota that it was not a problem for Boston Harbor, and you have never responded to my main argument, which was that the impoundment and filling of new land was done for commercial reasons mostly, and never because of rising water. In fact, the ONLY time Boston ever reacted to weather or climate actions was when the 1938 hurricane closed off part of the harbor — and Boston Harbor surrendered, not dredging the stuff out, but building on it.

    Boston has never responded to a climatic change in changing its harbor size, shape or depth. Never. You claim they will be able to in the future? Perhaps. It’s not a great rise there.

    But that’s one very busy commercial harbor. As one of your commenters asked, what happens to the land at the ends of the levees?

    As the EPA study notes, Boston Harbor is ill-prepared for other problems from rising ocean levels. It is not hardened for the more severe and more frequent wave pounding. They don’t have the studies to show what tidal action will be (a 12-inch average rise may mask a significantly larger tidal surge at high tide; storm tides are tend to grow in danger exponentially).

    I think you’re right, that Boston Harbor will figure out ways to cope with rising ocean levels. I think it’s error to claim that they’ve done that in the past, since there is no evidence of it, and I think it’s serious error to claim that the experience of one large commercial harbor means there’s no danger anywhere else.

    Texas, for example, gets hit a lot harder than Boston. We’re already paying much higher home insurance rates in Dallas, and we’re hundreds of miles from any tidal surge.

    You’ve also never responded to my concern about coastal zone management. The Texas legislature passed a law making eminent domain a lot harder for governments. You, on the other, hand, seem to think it will be no problem for governments to plan coast-long measures to fight climate change.

    You’re new at this stuff, aren’t you.

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  9. tommoriarty says:

    Hi Ed,

    It is a delight to have some reaction from you.

    I would encourage every reader of this blog to read the reply to John Mashey and judge for themselves.

    Referring to sea level rise at Boston, Ed says in the above comment “It assumes that 12-inch rise in ocean levels is no problem, based on what data, I can’t figure.” Well Ed, the data required for you to do your figuring has been pointed out to you multiple times at this point. But here it is again. Note the approximately 23 cm sea level rise in Boston over the last 90 years. That translates into a 9 inch rise in 90 years or, extrapolating, 10 inches in 100 years. Note also, it is quite clear to see, that the sea level rise rate in Boston 90 years ago was greater than it is today. During this time period Bostonians have recovered huge amounts of land from the sea. You keep implying that that was somehow the result of a hurricane. Please show your sources. To be relevant those sources must show that the continuous expansion of land in the Boston area over a 200 year period, shown here with sources listed, is the result of your hurricane. Governor’s Island used to be in the middle of Boston Harbor. Now it no longer exists – having been subsumed by the mainland as a result of land reclamation while the sea level was rising. You do not have to be able to walk on water to reach Castle Island either. It has been attached to the mainland by land reclamation.

    In addition, human ingenuity in Boston has raised buildings hundreds of feet into the air and put huge tunnels UNDER the harbor. This is not the work of haplass folks who need the wisdom of John Mashey to save them from 12 inches or 24 inches or one meter (as wildly unlikely as that is) of ocean rise.

    As for fears for the Sacramento area: I have pointed this out before, here it is again – the California areas threatened by a 140 cm (about 44 inches) sea level rise. Zoom in, way in, so you can find the affected area near San Francisco. You will see that Sacramento (you brought up Sacramento as being threatened by sea level rise, Ed) is about 75 kilometers away from any threatened area.

    Ed, you mentioned “I haven’t had the heart to follow through on any other papers.” Your readers can see my comments on the “other papers” here. Please be advised that these papers were originally cited on your blog in the “oozy condescending” comment by John Mashey. So go ahead – be heartless – I can take it.

    Best Regards,
    ClimateSanity

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  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Sea salt, from the ocean encroaching on Massachusetts, no doubt.

    I thought the criticism of the first paper Mashey cited particularly ill-informed. It assumes that 12-inch rise in ocean levels is no problem, based on what data, I can’t figure. Such a rise threatens a significant portion of the Sacramento area (which is a large, flat valley not much above sea level), especially with regard to the levees that protect the farms and homes of Sacramento, California’s capital. It assumes that 12-inches is the limit of the rise, and does not account for tidal surge differences, subsidence, changes in water table (critical in the zone where fresh water competes with sea water, and sea water means the wells must be abandoned), changes in salinity of the soils where tidal waters or surge waters have not been before, etc., etc.

    You’re probably one of those guys who looks at Alaska’s rising due to the melting of glaciers, which reduces the weight of the land area on the mantle and allows the land to float up, and says “Oh! Look! Climate change is no problem!” and never stop to consider the effects on permafrost and the actual loss of land as villages on the coast fall into the Pacific (happening now).

    I haven’t had the heart to follow through on any other papers. No one’s come up with an explanation for why that blog thinks Boston Harbor is a model to follow for climate change accommodation (“appeasement” in Limbaugh talk) when nothing cited in any of the examples has anything to do with any reaction to warming, and the only response to natural disaster land changes was to leave alone the new land created by the 1938 hurricane and build on it. Complete non-response and surrender to natural ocean effects makes a bad argument that responses will be better in the future, it seems to me.

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  11. John Cervidae says:

    Let’s talk about John Mashey’s “cool, reasoned head.”

    John recently made some comments on your web site in which he cited several journal articles. He explicitly said he had read these papers. But upon examination it was crystal clear that he had not. He made his claims in an oozy, condescending manner toward somebody who clearly new much more about the subject than he did. You can see it all laid out in this reply to John Mashey.

    I would take John Mashey’s comments with a very large grain of salt.

    John

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  12. Ed Darrell says:

    You left out the Roswell aliens, fluoride-in-drinking-water poisoners of people, Islamic terrorists, Bigfoot, Judge Crater and the Illuminati, Mongoose.

    Warming denial is creating a whole new class of handicaps: Thermometer challenged.

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  13. Mongoose says:

    There is no Global Warming. It is a fraud perpetrated by Marxist elites in order to destroy property rights and destroy the middle class. It is nothing but an attempt to control and impoverish people.

    It is a complete fraud. To promote it is to promote treason.

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