Climate change is a growing concern in our society, spurred by rising temperatures, devastating natural disasters, catastrophic predictions, and counter-productive environmental policies enacted by President Trump in recent years. Climate change deniers exist among us, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz. According to the Texas Tribune, Cruz stated in 2015 that “global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers.” In effect, he was comparing a phenomenon recognized by 97% of scientists with the beliefs held by a small group of conspiracists.
Although a significant disparity exists in agreement between Democrats and Republicans on climate change—a divide that Texas A&M University Galveston Professor Ashley Ross says has “only grown in recent decades,” her research reveals this gap is much lower in coastal communities such as Galveston island. So what exactly is the outlook for our beloved island? Culture Clash spoke with four professors in the Department of Marine Sciences at Texas A&M University Galveston about the implications of climate change for the island.
Dr. David Retchless identifies some of the immediate physical effects climate change will have on Galveston: more days of nuisance flooding (defined by NOAA as “flooding that leads to public inconveniences”), more damaging hurricanes, and, of course, hotter weather. “Many people look at how the averages will change,” he says. “[For example], the average annual temperature will be 2 degrees higher, or average sea level will be 9 inches higher. But they don’t think about the extremes — the hottest days will be hotter and there will be many more of them, and the most extreme flood events (like Harvey and Ike) will become more common.”
The shrinking of beaches is another threat to island life as we know it. “Galveston island beaches are particularly vulnerable to high rates of erosion, leading to a long-term loss of beaches,” warns Dr. Meri Davlasheridze. “Some studies indicate the majority of Galveston beaches could disappear within 20 years without continuous beach nourishments. Projections along the west of the island indicate beaches could be fully lost by 2035.”
Planning for these changes falls upon individuals, companies, and local government. Retchless states “persons on the island need to think about climate change when making any large, long term investment.” Potential homeowners should consider future flood risks and the availability of insurance in the years and decades to come when deciding whether or not to buy. In addition, Dr. Retchless explains how Galveston’s tourism and retail sectors will have to anticipate lost revenue due to increasing occurrences of flooding. On a larger scale, local government must account for how the effects of flooding and natural disasters on individuals and businesses will, in turn, impact the city’s tax base. City officials will have to balance increased infrastructure maintenance costs with other expenses such as amenities needed to support tourist traffic and new projects designed to reduce flooding.
Amidst these ever-expanding issues and risk factors—which only begin to scratch the surface of what awaits us locally and globally if climate change is not swiftly and dramatically checked—it becomes clear that simply mitigating the effects of climate change is comparable to patching holes in a sinking ship. Slowing the progression of climate change will only result from changed behavior on the part of individuals, as well as policy changes on the national and international levels.
What can everyday people do to help slow climate change? It is easy to overlook the power we hold as individuals, consumers, and citizens, but the impact we can make is our greatest hope for saving the planet. For starters, voting for representatives who support environmentally friendly policies can help to reduce pollution on a larger scale. There are also everyday changes people can incorporate to dramatically reduce their emissions. An article published by the Guardian in 2018 reported “avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.” In addition to going vegetarian, vegan, or simply cutting down your consumption of meat and dairy, you can reduce your carbon footprint by choosing to buy clothes from sustainable fashion brands or secondhand from up-and-coming companies like ThredUp.com and Rent the Runway. A recent CBS article stated that “Total greenhouse gas emissions related to textiles production are equal to 1.2 billion tons annually -- more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping trips combined.” The fashion industry is amongst the most damaging to the environment, and changing our shopping habits is one of the most simple and affordable things we can do for the planet.
Fossil fuels are a more notorious culprit of pollution, making up approximately three-quarters of the United States’ carbon emissions, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. We can cut down on our use of these pollutants by carpooling, planning out errands in order to drive less, choosing to buy fuel-efficient cars, or using other modes of transportation like walking or biking.