Going for green

Austin gasses up new plan to combat effects of climate change

Austin gasses up new plan to combat effects of climate change

Barton Springs Pool during the day
Devastating floods in October 2018 closed large parts of the Greenbelt as well as Barton Springs. Photo courtesy of Save Our Springs

Editor's note: An earlier article misidentified Council Member Alison Alter as sponsoring the climate change resolution. The article has been updated.

With Austin projected to suffer even more unbearably hot summer days in the near future, city leaders are preparing their fight against climate change.

On May 9, the Austin City Council approved a resolution that envisions creating a new city staff position — chief resilience officer — to craft and carry out a plan that would bolster the city’s resilience in the face of climate change. The resolution emphasizes the “urgency of creating a blueprint to prepare for and respond to the shocks and stressors of catastrophic climate events.”

The City Council resolution cites a number of climate catastrophes that have struck the Austin area in recent years, including:

  • The 2011 drought, which helped spark devastating wildfires in Southwest Austin and Bastrop County.
  • Massive flooding in the Austin area in 2013 and 2015.
  • 15 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures in 2018.
  • Flooding in October 2018 that led to an unprecedented weeklong boil-water notice for customers of Austin Water.

2014 forecast commissioned by the City of Austin predicts the number of days above 100 degrees in Austin will rise from an average 13 per year now to an average of 15 to 20 days per year through 2040. Meanwhile, the number of nights where the thermometer dips below 32 degrees is expected to drop from an average of 15 days per year now to an average of just under 11 days through 2040.

Equipped with that and other startling data, Council Member Leslie Pool sponsored the climate change resolution.

“I think we would all hope that the federal government would take more seriously the effects of climate change. In the absence of federal action, what we do here on the city level is that much more important,” Alter said before the council endorsed her resolution. “If every city would follow Austin’s example, we could make a huge dent in addressing climate change needs.”

Toward that end, Austin Energy aims for 65 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2027. Today, more than 30 percent of the power it delivers to customers is renewable, up from 20 percent in 2015.

In addition, the City of Austin has set a community-wide goal of net-zero emissions from greenhouse gases by 2050. In Austin, transportation and coal-fueled electricity represent the two biggest contributors to greenhouse gases.

“We’re already seeing the impact of climate change here in Austin, and projections tell us to expect even more extreme weather,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in October 2018. “With everyone’s help, we can fight climate change and protect this city we call home.”

Additionally, the resolution backs the general principles of the Green New Deal, a federal proposal whose co-sponsors include U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, an Austin Democrat.

The Sierra Club, a nonprofit environmental group, calls the Green New Deal “a big, bold transformation of the economy to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change. It would mobilize vast public resources to help us transition from an economy built on exploitation and fossil fuels to one driven by dignified work and clean energy.”

In a May 1 speech on the floor of the U.S. House, Doggett cited the Green New Deal as an “alternative to the same old dirty deal.”

“Climate action does bear some cost, but inaction has greater cost. Let’s embrace the simple truth that preserving the earth is worth it. Let’s embrace an America that is leading on a green economic revolution,” Doggett said.