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A Change of Climate: Houston, Texas and Adaptation Planning


A Change of Climate: Houston, Texas and Adaptation Planning Paul Martin Suckow Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs Urban Planning and Environmental ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: A Change of Climate: Houston, Texas and Adaptation Planning

A Change of Climate Houston, Texas and
Adaptation Planning
  • Paul Martin Suckow
  • Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public
  • Urban Planning and Environmental Policy Ph.D.
  • TSU Research Day, April, 2007

Abrupt climate change
More heat in atmosphere, More humidity, drier
land , greater floods, Gulf Stream slowing,
Climate zones advancing northward, Greatest
changes always in past 5 years.
Uncertainty not if but how bad?
Approximate heat imbalance at Earths surface 2
W/Sq M.
Facts, nonfiction
  • Consensus solidified by 1996-2005 detailed ice
    core studies covering almost a million year
    period, 12 past ice ages.
  • Modern humans by GHG production have already
    ended the Holocene age in which they ascended.
  • Current changes already unprecedented in the
    entire fossil record, so effects must be ruled

Facts, nonfiction
  • Natural examples from the fossil record of abrupt
    climate changes are associated with each of the
    five major extinctions.
  • Scientists believe that the sixth major
    extinction now underway may include half of the
    Earths species.
  • Biotic diversity will require 20,000 human
    generations to recover to mid-20th century levels.

Abrupt climate change
  • Throughout the fossil record, the climate has
    shifted between two average stable states
  • The Hot-box Earth No surface ice.
  • The Cold-box Earth Some glaciers and snow.
  • Such changes resulted from the natural confluence
    of highly sensitive cycles
  • Solar output, orbital position, tilt and wobble.
  • Planetary collisions, superplume convection,
    biotic- material-atmospheric evolution.

Abrupt climate change evidence
  • Within the cold box world of life as we know it,
    cyclic variation
  • Long ice ages
  • Warmer interstadials
  • Turbulence between (see Younger Dryas)

Abrupt climate change triggers
  • Albedo cooling
  • Greenhouse warming
  • Feedback effects
  • Ocean,
  • Cryosphere,
  • Atmosphere,
  • Biosphere, all interact.

Thus far, computer models still do not
incorporate sufficient resolution, hierarchies,
and feedback mechanisms to understand the
velocity and magnitude of recorded features.
Abrupt climate change actors
  • Oceans.
  • 10 100 times the heat capacity of land
  • Primary climate shaper through heat transport via
    salinity/density changes.
  • Three distinct near-global floods of ice sheet
    melt waters have occurred
  • 14,600 years ago (Meltwater Pulse 1A 20m)
  • 12,700 years ago (Younger Dryas warming 100m)
  • 8,450 years ago (Legends of Gilgamesh, Noah 20m)

Abrupt climate change actors
  • Cryosphere
  • Ice and snow cover
  • Sea ice chills planet,
  • Lowers moisture,
  • Stabilizes weather.
  • Glaciers and snows
  • Maintain cold state,
  • Fresh surface water,
  • Stabilizes biotic growth.

Ice and snow cover reflect back to space 90 of
the radiation received. Sea and land surfaces
absorb 90 of solar irradiation.
Abrupt climate change actors
  • Atmosphere
  • Rapidly propagates a climate forcing from one
    place to all others.
  • Primary shaper of Earths energy fluxes.
  • Wind fields linked to ocean upwelling, surface
    currents and wave action.

A Parcel of air (and the dust/moisture/pollutant
s it carries) typically moves by wind from
Houston to Illinois or the Appalachians within
two days.
Abrupt climate change actors
  • Biosphere
  • Performs regulatory role.
  • Large rain forests act as planetary lungs in the
    carbon cycle, as well as an evolutionary nursery.
  • Coastal wetlands mop up pollutants and slow
    dangerous wind conditions.
  • Moving plant and animal niches will strand many
    species without food or shelter, while
    asynchronous bloom/birth cycles will cut off much

On average, climate zones and the biological
niches they harbor are moving about 100 feet
northward per year already, with greater change
inevitable over the next century.
Expected effects upon Houston
  • 10 - 40 increased disease risk
  • Exotic/re-evolving diseases
  • - Malaria (shown)
  • - Dengue (break bone) fever

Expected effects upon Houston
  • Lower crop yields
  • Larger croplands
  • 10-20 decreases in Texas cotton and sorghum
  • 40 - 70 decreases in Texas wheat crop.

How to support greater understanding
  • 24 hour and year round use of public and
    quasipublic facilities, including those in the
    built environment and on the internet, should
    enable more of the free association that empowers
    democratic governance.
  • Maximizing available structural and energy
    resources should encourage stimulating
    educational/recreational gatherings as well as
    quiet refuge for those of all interests.

Adaptation to Climate Change
  • Understanding patterns of abrupt climate change
    can help reduce vulnerability and increase
    adaptive activity.
  • The human potential to exceed Earths
    environmental carrying capacity is very real and
    may already have happened.
  • The choice between environmental stewardship vs.
    economic development is a false choice.
  • Environmental stewardship will proceed directly
    with future development, or humanity will end.

Adaptation to Climate Change
  • Greater human involvement in the management of
    formerly natural and wilderness environs is an
    unavoidable consequence of historical
    anthropogenic greenhouse gas production.
  • Until the global climate can be stabilized and
    managed satisfactorily, humanity should commit
    itself to a new project of minimizing losses of
    life and civilization as we know it.

Gulf Coast Adaptation
  • Ocean coastal properties cannot be expected to
    survive routine future hurricanes.
  • Structures elevated below 28 feet above sea level
    are already at risk of destructive storm surge
  • As aquifer withdrawal continues to subside
    irrigated landforms and sea level rises due to
    icecap melt water/thermal expansion, these storm
    surges will ride higher over time.
  • Because 80 feet of sea level rise is likely
    during any new structures lifetime, new
    development should be located higher than 110
    feet above sea level.

Expected effects Sea level rise
  • IPCC Report 3 (2001)
  • 1 meter rise before 2100
  • 400 meters of coastal plain lost
  • NASA (Hansen) Model (2005)
  • 25 -10 meters (80 ft) at meltdown of Greenland
    and West Antarctic Icecaps (before 2100?)
  • 10-4 km of coastal plain lost
  • Houston Downtown and IAH at risk from storm
    surges of sea water
  • Total cryosphere loss
  • 67 m (220 ft) at full meltdown (before 2150?)
  • New shoreline at San Antonio/Austin/Dallas
  • Downtown Houston will be covered by over 100 feet
    of sea water

Gulf Coast Adaptation
  • This consideration makes all of the rebuilding
    along the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and
    Rita, by definition, a temporary redevelopment.
  • Offshore (oil, gas and wind) infrastructure may
    require major modifications to withstand future
    hurricanes on top of sea level rise, or to be
    converted into tightly anchored breakaway

Gulf Coast Adaptation
  • A majority of Florida and Louisiana land
    ultimately will not remain above water if this
    centurys global temperature increase exceeds two
    (2) degrees Celsius.
  • Computers project between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius
    as the likely increase.
  • An alternative to business-as-usual is mandatory
    for success in these two states.

Houston Adaptation
  • New infrastructure and development between now
    and 2050 should be located at or above 110 feet
    above the current sea level.
  • west of Downtown Houston.
  • west of the North Fwy I-45.
  • west of the South Fwy 288.
  • Any building below 110 feet should be considered
    a temporary structure.

Houston Adaptation
  • The land below 110 feet above sea level should
    return to coastal wetland salt marshes over time.
  • That wide belt of coastal Texas land between
    downtown Houston and the salt marshes might
    better be used for organic agriculture to grow
    local food supplies, than for dense human

Houston Adaptation
  • The clearly unsustainable oil infrastructure east
    of Houston poses environmental and health
    threats, and should be mitigated when it is
    intentionally retired.
  • These threats include water contamination by
    spills of oil and oil products, air contamination
    by volatile organic compounds, explosive hazards,
    radioactive scaling inside the pipes, and
    decreasing integrity under saltwater intrusion.

Houston Adaptation
  • Houstons transportation network can be expected
    to remain within current rights of way, even if
    rebuilt after disaster damage.
  • To make most efficient use of rights-of-way,
    immediate efforts to provide bus rapid transit
    and rail alternatives should continue.
  • Future guide way rapid transit options should
    plan to occupy all freeway corridors, and some

Houston Adaptation
  • The use of both private and public automobiles
    should continue, but be increasingly limited to
    shorter-ranged fully electric vehicles refueled
    from on- or off-site solar electro voltaic
    panels, wind or tidal/wave power.
  • Decentralized alternative power sources should be
    planted throughout the power grid.

Houston Adaptation
  • All new electrical power plants should be
    developed to use 100 closed loop systems with
    complete carbon sequestration.
  • Stack emissions should become a thing of the
  • Such non-emitting oil/coal processing plants
    could safely form the core of future urban
    development, providing organic material
    processing and production employment close to
    residences that maximize human values and human
    powered transport options.

Houston Adaptation
  • Increasing mobility by use of light personal
    electromagnetic flying rigs should be encouraged,
    along with general aeronautical education.
  • Trans-city shipment and transport options should
    use electromagnetic power trains.
  • Air and ocean transport options using fossil fuel
    technology currently only emits about 5 of
    global CO2 gasses. These should be allowed to
    double those emissions to expand capacity, safety
    and redundancy.

Houston Adaptation
  • Seagoing vessels should increase in size for
    safety and economic reasons.
  • A tiered system of port interaction with larger
    vessels should be developed to enhance safety,
    security and efficiency of distribution.
  • Increasingly seagoing vessels should be converted
    to nuclear power with single-use closed
    containment of fuels for deep-sea burial upon
    emergency or expiration.
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