Climate Change Conference: Adaptation Crucial for Central Texas

Central Texas’ vulnerability to extreme weather events—and the pressing need for the region to adapt to climate change—dominated the discussion Friday at a conference hosted by UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. Organized by a group of public affairs students, the “Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategies” symposium featured scientists, academics, architects, activists and leaders in city government discussing how to adapt to climate change in a state where many politicians deny its existence.

Rather than focusing on climate change mitigation, which typically involves actions meant to reduce global climate change (e.g. cutting greenhouse gas emissions), the conference explored how communities can adapt to the already evident effects of climate change.

The bad news: Central Texas, which is prone to drought, extreme heat, flooding and wildfires, will need to prepare for more extreme weather events. Climate change means longer and more frequent droughts; more numerous and severe wildfires due to higher temperatures; and rainfall that could come less frequently but with more intensity, worsening Central Texas’ status as the flash flood capital of the nation and producing more fatalities and property damage.

While some Texas cities have taken up climate mitigation, by reducing carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy, few have developed formal plans to adapt to the effects of climate change. Preparing cities for floods, drought and extreme heat is essential to preventing destruction and more damage in the future, panelists argued. For example, flood-prone cities could build higher bridges and highways, or direct homes in flood-prone areas to build on stilts. To reduce heat exposure to residents and conserve water and energy, rooftops could be painted white or seeded with drought-tolerant plants.

A crucial link in climate adaptation is simply assessing vulnerabilities and risks. In Central Texas, rising summer temperatures means more people are at risk of exposure. Stefan Wray, who organized the conference, presented his research that found those most at risk from the extreme heat of 2011, the hottest summer on record, were older, poorer folks concentrated in East Austin.

Another study, by LEED-accredited architect Adele Houghton, found that the areas most vulnerable to flooding and heat were also concentrated on the East Side. In contrast, LEED buildings—“green” buildings that often have features that can reduce exposure to heat, flooding and other extreme weather conditions—were clustered west of I-35. … FULL STORY