Experts explain how U.N. climate change report affects the Borderland

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FILE – In this Friday, June 11, 2021 file photo, a climate activist wears a protective face mask with a message which reads “The climate is changing, why aren’t we?” during an action on Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth, Cornwall, England. Britain is losing the race to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change, including worsening heat and floods, a government-appointed panel of experts said Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The Climate Change Committee, set up to advise the government, said the level of global warming that is already inevitable would cause expensive and dangerous overheating in homes, power cuts and damage to nature, crops and food supplies. It said the government must act urgently to ensure Britain is prepared. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The U.N. released a report on Monday that determined some of the devastating effects of climate change around the global believed to be unavoidable but there is a small window of opportunity to mitigate the damage. 

The U.N.’s intergovernmental panel on climate change confirms that mankind has unequivocally warmed the planet, which continues to cause damage to land, sea and atmosphere from harmful carbon emissions. 

The report outlines five potential climate futures that humanity may take steps toward reducing emissions. The intergovernmental panel on climate change says the world’s temperature has already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 1800s and that the warming will continue through 2050 because human activity — but there’s hope.

KTSM 9 News spoke with science and policy experts about the effects for both the Borderland’s climate, as well as the Texas economy, which relies heavily on emission-producing fossil fuels. 

“The pattern is clear,” said Dr. Deanna Pennington, professor of Earth, Environment, and Resources Sciences at UTEP. “Here in El Paso, we’re going to experience climate change as increasing hot days in the summer and probably the onset of hot days earlier in the year and extending late in the year.”

Historical weather data shows that El Paso traditionally underwent about two weeks’ worth of triple-digit days over the summer, but that rate has doubled over the last 20 years. 

“If you look at just the past 20 years, the average is 28 days, so we’ve doubled the number of triple-digit days in the summer here in El Paso,” said Pennington.

The effects of climate change in El Paso are — of course — higher temperatures and longer sustained periods of heat, but also affect our water resources.

Pennington said that she’s been working on a research project for the last six years that examines the region’s water resources and said all of the Borderland’s surface water comes from Colorado.

“Not only do we have to worry about temperature change here, but temperature change in the mountains of Colorado are going to really impact the availability of water,” she said. “The bottom line is there’s less water available for everybody.”

The topic of climate change is a dog whistle issue for politicians that advocates say needs to be addressed despite party affiliation. 

“At the end of the day, you could be a conservative or a liberal and care about this issue, and care about it in a different way when it comes to policy,” said Benji Backer, a conservative climate change activist and president of the American Conservation Coalition. 

“If you look at Texas, oil and gas is a very important part of the economy. We have to keep that into consideration when we are talking about how we fight climate change,” he said. 

Gov. Greg Abbott is still facing heat following the devastating loss of power that caused millions of Texans to go without heat during a winter freeze earlier this year, but the state remains set to receive almost 90 percent of its power from fossil fuels as Abbott continues to gain from the energy industry. 

Elected officials in Texas are unable to receive campaign donations during the regular session of the Texas Legislature, but funding came down in buckets once the session ended. 

Five of the most prominent companies (or their executives) in the Texas power grid pipeline (Calpine, Centerpoint, NRG Energy, Oncor, and Vistra) collectively donated nearly $500,000 to Texas elected officials between June 21 through June 30.

Abbott received close to $4.6 million from gas, oil and other energy interests following the donation moratorium during the regular session, and has received about $30 million from oil and gas entities since 2014. 

Bloomberg reports that gas sellers made $11 billion in profit following the Texas freeze, further indicating the inextricability of Texas politics from the oil and gas industry.

But the two are not mutually exclusive.

“So we need to be able to balance that reality with the other reality that basically is the world is changing its weather patterns and extreme weather events because of energy production and we need to be able to merge those two truths together,” said Backer.

It’s time, he says, to turn politics into praxis.

“If you don’t like what the other side says in terms of policy, the climate is changing, and we have to do something about it,” Backer said.

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