Texas has potential to pioneer conservative climate reform

Laura Hallas

As we approach the 10-year anniversary of Nobel-prize winner Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” there has been another foreboding development in climate change. A new study warns that without severe limits on fossil fuel emissions, global warming will exponentially increase to the point that no scientific intervention or government regulation could control. In the author’s words, “we have a global emergency.” This is the closest a scientific paper gets to shaking you by the shoulders.

In the face of these issues, Texas has the resources to be a model for combating global warming. Its geological, political and economic circumstances give it the opportunity to create a new model for conservative states to reduce carbon emissions. 

Midway between the tropics and high latitudes, Texas directly will experience the average global rise in temperature. The state already suffers from perennial natural disasters — including hurricanes and droughts — and increasing strain on water resources. Global warming will exacerbate this situation to a critical level, so the state’s best course of action is to enact proactive policy measures.

Charles Jackson, research scientist at the Jackson School of Geosciences, said “you don’t necessarily have to believe in climate change to appreciate greater resilience to droughts or flooding or storm surges.”

Many reforms are already in motion due to market forces. Texas is the only state with its own power grid, and leads the country in wind energy production thanks to an expanse of empty, windy land that makes renewable energy a cheap option. In fact, Texas is 16 years ahead of schedule on its renewable generation requirement. However, Texas still lacks substantive state policy on the subject.

California has taken a very liberal approach to environmental policy with its many top-down government initiatives. Texas could be just as effective with potential policies without compromising conservative ideals. Statewide policy based upon a market-driven approach would serve as a model for the conservative parts of the country. 

“It would offer Texas an opportunity to lead in an area that it has a very natural capacity to do so,” said Sheila Olmstead, associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Environmental policy demands political consistency over time. If firms think that regulations will lift, or carbon taxes will be abolished with the next presidential or gubernatorial office, they won’t be incentivized to build sustainable practices into their long-term business plans. The proximity and partisan consistency of the state government offers the stability firms need when making long-run environmental decisions.

A state-led carbon tax schedule or cap and trade system would reflect the true cost of carbon in an economically efficient way, creating new revenue and benefiting the planet in the process. Our next steps are clear. By implementing a cost schedule to reduce emissions and physical protections from the effects of climate change and reinforcing climate-related infrastructure, Texas can emerge from a global crisis as a well-prepared economic leader.

Hallas is a Plan II freshman from Allen. She is a senior columist. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHallas.