This afternoon, I testified before the House Committee on Culture, Recreation and Tourism on their Interim Charge to "Study the effects the drought and wildfires have had on tourism and recreation in Texas. Make recommendations for ways to prevent future losses." Here is my written testimony:
"My name is Luke Metzger and I am the Director of Environment Texas, a statewide citizen-funded advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces.
The drought and wildfires have caused significant harm to tourism and recreation in this state. One of my favorite places in central Texas – the Lost Pines of Bastrop State Park – was nearly wiped out by wildfires. The drought – the worst since 1789 – has drained almost every reservoir in the state to less than 60% full, leading many Texans to stay home rather than spend time and money at an empty lake or dry river. This has clearly caused significant harm to our economy and to our parks system.
Drought and wildfires are of course natural events that Texas has seen before and will continue to deal with. However, according to Texas State Climatologist John Neilsen-Gammon, who serves under Gov. Perry and who was first appointed by George W. Bush, the recent drought and wildfires were made worse because human caused global warming. According to Dr. Nielsen-Gammon, who is an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M, “global warming accounted for about 1 F of excess heat. Warmer temperatures lead to greater water demand, faster evaporation, and greater drying-out of potential fuels for fire. Thus, the impacts of the drought were enhanced by global warming, much of which has been caused by man.”
1 degree of extra heat might not sound like much, but according to scientists, it’s enough to cause a 350% increase in acres burned during a wildfire. Left unchecked, global warming is going to cause even more damage to Texas, both to tourism and recreation, but also to human life.
The Texas Legislature has taken some steps to reduce global warming pollution, including setting goals for renewable energy and energy efficiency. But more must be done to reduce pollution from power plants, industry and cars and trucks and promote cleaner alternatives including wind, solar, advanced biofuels, fuel efficient and electric vehicles and public transportation.
Global warming’s not the only thing to blame for low lake levels. Another major factor is wasteful use of water by cities, agriculture, the electric power sector, and oil and gas companies. In their State Water plan, the Texas Water Development Board has identified a number of water conservation strategies that can help keep water in our rivers and lakes for recreational and wildlife needs. The Legislature should fund these strategies."