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Gov. Abbott: Save the planet

March 2, 2019

Editor’s note: A longer version of this editorial was published in the Express-News’ sister paper, the Houston Chronicle. It is a view with which the Express-News Editorial Board is in full consensus.

Some religious people say everybody finds God in the end. We’ve all heard stories of deathbed baptisms and conversions. Maybe the converted are motivated by fear, maybe by an elementary risk assessment.

If God exists, even a devout atheist has much to gain by accepting him. On the other hand, the guy dying has nothing to lose in saying a quick prayer.

Let’s apply that logic to another existential pickle: global warming.

Politics has made the term radioactive in some parts of this country, including Texas, even as the warnings from climate scientists grow more dire by the week.

Of course, we all wish this warming stuff really was a hoax, that our great-grandkids will some day breathe clean air just fine. Maybe even take an Alaskan vacation and spot a real live polar bear.

Nice thought. But we can’t stake our future on wishful thinking. Seems better to err on the side of caution — on the side of science.

If human behavior increases global warming — and more than 97 percent of climate scientists say it does — we’ve got everything to gain by taking action, including the survival of our planet and mankind. In the unlikelihood that it’s an elaborate hoax or a gross miscalculation, what do we have to lose by ridding the air of some heat-trapping gases?

Industries and economies built on fossil fuels will lose money initially, but nothing they can’t make up with investments in forward-thinking technology and alternative energy.

The rest of us earthlings will get cleaner air to breathe; more sustainable energy infrastructure; burgeoning new energy industries, some hopefully based in Texas, employing thousands; and species saved from mass extinction. That’s why it’s so curious when politicians refuse to even entertain the idea of a deathbed conversion on climate.

Take Gov. Greg Abbott. In December, he spoke of the “urgent” need to “future-proof” the Gulf Coast after a sweeping report by his Commission to Rebuild Texas recommended dramatic reforms in a state where sea levels are rising and storms are becoming more frequent and more severe. But asked by a reporter whether human impact on climate change affected Texas’ weather disasters, Abbott replied: “Listen, I’m not a scientist. Impossible for me to answer that question.”

The next month, 27 climate scientists, researchers and professors from schools such as Texas A&M, the University of Texas at Austin and Rice University sent the governor a letter offering to brief him on climate science and what Texas needs to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to warming.

“No one ever contacted us,” Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at A&M, told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

And what is science telling us? The scientists’ letter hit the highlights. By midcentury, the Southern Great Plains, which includes Texas, will experience 30 to 60 more 100-degree days each year. Higher temperatures could result in an additional 1,300 deaths per year by century’s end. Up to $20.9 billion in coastal property is projected to be flooded at high tide by 2030.

What’s their source for such gloomy predictions? The National Climate Assessment, by more than a dozen federal agencies.

Texas, as one of the biggest U.S. wind energy producers, can play a key role in reducing emissions and drive future changes. “The only thing missing is leadership,” the scientists wrote.

Even in Washington, we’re seeing leadership among Republicans. The top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee recently wrote Democrats a letter asking to “work together to find bipartisan climate solutions.” A climate change caucus last Congress counted 45 Republican House members. Republicans from the late John McCain to former Secretary of State James Baker have called for aggressive action. George H.W. Bush campaigned on the greenhouse effect back in 1988.

In the end, it was lip service. As president, Bush squandered a precious chance to stop climate change.

Abbott is squandering Texas’ chance. Not because he doesn’t get it — because he prioritizes votes from skeptics who seem to think an occasional snowball negates warming trends spanning a century.

What a legacy. Someday, history books may note that the governor of Texas had a chance to help heal the planet and build new, sustainable energy industries in the process. Salvation sent him an invitation and he never responded.