Houston Can Lead the Way on Climate Change
Hurricane Harvey not only inundated our region with 51 inches of rain; it also washed away any last shred of credibility for climate change deniers.
Abbie Kamin has been at the forefront of the fight to address global warming since her days as a student organizer in college in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She is committed to increasing Houston’s resilience and keep Houston a safe and thriving place for our children and their children.
She also shares the frustration and anger that many of us feel about the climate deniers in control of our state and federal governments. If elected officials anywhere still question whether climate change is real, they should be drummed out of office at the first possible chance.
Harvey, the Tax Day Flood, the Memorial Day Flood: These extreme weather occurrences are harbingers of climate change and, if we do not act swiftly, it will only get worse. Houston is one of the most polluted cities in America for ozone, and our cities’ greenhouse gas emissions are more than 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita more than the median for US cities in the C40.
Abbie is proud to live in the energy capital of the world. Houston's energy industry has fueled our city's growth and allowed us to thrive. Yet Abbie also knows, as we confront climate change, Houston must rise to the next big challenge: to become the renewable energy capital of the world.
That is why Abbie is proposing a multi-pronged effort for the City of Houston to combat the effects of climate change and build a strong economic future.
A Note on Houston’s Climate Action Plan
Abbie is excited about Mayor Turner’s proposal to create a city climate action plan (CAP). The CAP is currently being drafted and the final form is slated to be released before the end of 2019. Abbie will pursue the strategies outlined below in coordination with the CAP.
Transportation: Keep Houston moving while reducing our carbon footprint
One of Houston’s biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions is transportation. 48 percent of greenhouse gas emitted by our city comes from transportation and a large portion of that is due to personal vehicles and lack of public transportation. Replacing 50 percent of Houston's gas/diesel-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles by 2040 would improve air quality, prevent premature deaths, 7,500 cases of asthma exacerbation, and 5,500 lost school days.
The city must lead by example and replace vehicles in the city’s fleet with clean energy and electric vehicles, encourage consumers to invest in electric vehicles, and work with businesses to make the transition. Delivery companies including UPS and FedEx have already begun to shift to environmentally friendly vehicles. In order to facilitate a faster transition to electric vehicles, Abbie will fight to increase the amount of charging stations throughout the city.
An expansive and easy to use public transit system will also decrease greenhouse emissions as well as traffic congestion. Switching from driving to riding public transportation, biking, or walking is one of the most substantial actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint. Light-duty vehicles account for 59% of all transportation related greenhouse gas emissions in the country. A 2010 government report found that light rail produces 62 percent less emissions and bus transit produces 33 percent less emissions per mile travelled. If just one driver per household switched to taking public transportation, this would save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per household each year.
That is why Abbie supports the METRO bond measure on this November’s ballot and will fight to increase Houstonians’ access to public transportation.
Abbie is also determined to improve the walkability and bikeability of the Houston area.
Since 2009, the United States has seen a 51% increase in people biking to work, which coincided with the amount of bicycle lanes doubling each year. During a similar time period, Houston suffered 2,000 pedestrian and cyclist deaths and was rated in the top 10 most dangerous cities for cyclists. Houston has a bike plan and has adopted a Vision Zero policy to reduce the number of traffic related deaths.
We must push forward with both plans and develop a comprehensive pedestrian plan as well. Parts of the city don’t have sidewalks, while in other areas, sidewalks are in disrepair. Houstonians will not take public transportation, ride their bikes, or walk if they cannot do it safely. By ensuring pedestrian and cyclist safety, we can reduce our traffic fatalities, reduce or carbon emissions, and improve the quality of life for all Houstonians.
Building Standards: Greener buildings, fewer emissions, healthier Houstonians
Another major source of Houston’s carbon footprint comes from building usage, i.e. air conditioning / heating, electricity, and water operation / water treatment, comprising 49 percent of the city’s emissions. To reduce the city’s output of emissions, Abbie will work with businesses and community organizations to update energy and building codes to increase efficiency and achieve sustainable development.
In 2004, City Council approved the Green Building Resolution. This set the goal of silver LEED certification for any new construction and major renovations on city owned buildings. Climate change is happening and it is time to update this to require new and major renovation projects to achieve gold LEED certification.
Abbie will also push developers to voluntarily adopt LEED standards. In Los Angeles, LEED certified buildings were rented for seventy-five cents more per square foot than compared to non-certified buildings. (On a related note, a study in Austin found that downtown residents and tourists would pay more for buildings built by developers who provide sustainable workplace conditions – because the respondents connected better workplace conditions with higher quality construction.) By continuing to embrace LEED certification and taking the next step, our city can improve our energy and water efficiency, reduce our footprint, and develop responsibly.
Climate change is an urgent threat that must be met with innovative ideas. Houston is home to some of the smartest people in the world and we should be embracing new and promising solutions. For example, green roofs or living roofs can increase the longevity of roofs, capture carbon, improve building efficiency, and improve the resiliency of our city by hold storm water.
On City Council, Abbie will push our city to embrace new and promising innovations like green roofs because Houston is already feeling the impacts of climate change and it will only get worse if every single level of government isn’t working to address the issue.
While Houstonians have long-cherished the magnificence of a shade tree in the summer, the value of urban tree canopies as a strategy to reduce carbon is getting a fresh look. In 2015, a study found that Houston had 33.3 million living trees and a tree canopy that covers 18.4% of the city. Trees are naturally capture carbon through photosynthesis, help to decrease CO2 emissions while also providing shade. Tree-shaded neighborhoods can be six degrees cooler than non-shaded neighborhoods leading to increase energy efficiency by decreasing the strain on air conditioners. Additionally, the shading extends the lifespan of our roadways and reduces the heat island effect felt in cities, something that will only get worse if climate change isn’t addressed. Abbie knows it is important to protect our current trees and encourage planning for and using trees in our neighborhoods, parks, and community spaces.
It is important to acknowledge that our city is already leading by example. The City of Houston is the number one municipal purchaser of renewable energy in America and our municipal buildings are powered by 92% renewable energy. Abbie is committed to continuing Houston’s leadership in this area.
Renewable Technology: A more Resilient Houston
Houston can also reduce its carbon footprint and improve resilience by investing more in renewable technology. A report last year found that solar and wind energy are more cost-effective than coal and, since 2009, the cost of solar has dropped 88 percent. The impact rooftop solar can have in Houston is especially significant given that Houston has the largest solar energy potential of any city in the United States. Unfortunately, most of this potential goes unused. In addition to being clean, rooftop solar creates a distributed energy system, as energy produced by rooftop solar is used at or near where it’s produced. With the intensity of storms increasing (because of climate change), rooftop solar and battery storage can provide an added layer of resilience to power homes when the main grid fails.
Abbie will work to raise awareness of the benefits of rooftop solar and partner with energy suppliers to incentivize Houstonians to install rooftop solar and battery storage.
Furthermore, Abbie wants to partner with business and Labor to bring renewable energy jobs to Houston. Houston is the energy capital of the world and Houston’s economy has been tied to the energy industry for decades. A study in late 2018 found that after the 2015-2017 slump in oil prices, Houston struggled to recover oil and gas jobs last. Only 20 percent of oil and gas jobs lost since 2014 have returned. In contrast, renewable energy jobs are booming across America, creating stable and high-wage employment for blue-collar workers.
Abbie will work with energy companies and Labor to make sure that Houston is attracting jobs in renewable energy research and development, manufacturing, and installation so Houston can remain the energy capital of the world.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – AND Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Waste only makes up for two percent of all of Houston’s greenhouse gas emissions but it is one of the easiest areas to improve. In 2008, Houston recycled less than three percent of all waste; in 2014, the recycling rate was 19 percent. That’s progress, but the recycling rate nationwide was 34 percent.
Great strides have been made in the past 10 years, but we can, and we must, do better. Abbie will support a public education campaign on waste reduction and proper recycling procedures.
Abbie has already put forward a plan to expand recycling to apartment complexes across the city. Read more here. In addition to apartment complexes, Abbie will work with businesses to implement waste reduction and recycling programs as well as schools to make sure students are learning early.
Water Conservation: The time is always, not just during extreme drought
Water is life. In the face of rising temperatures, climate change, and population growth, Houston must always be focused on water conservation. Houstonians pulled together during the Drought of 2011 – but Abbie knows conserving water isn’t just a strategy for emergencies. Much of Houston is frequently on the edge of drought conditions. Texas state law requires the city to adopt a water conservation plan every five years and Houston’s new plan is being finalized this year. Our city is above average on water loss and loses 87 gallons of water every day to leaks.
We need to make sure we are investing in infrastructure improvements to prevent losses, maximize efficiency, and improve transmission. Houston also needs a sustained public information campaign on best practices for water conservation, from turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth to only water lawns when needed. By updating our building codes and encourage LEED certification we will also be pushing buildings and homes to be built with high water-efficiency amenities.
Abbie wants city government to lead by example and do the same with city owned facilities and parks. Take the pledge today and help reduce your water usage.
A Reality Check
As with most good ideas, the potential to implement many of the strategies in this document is constrained by available funds.
In many cases, Abbie will push for changes in the private sector that will not only reduce Houston's carbon footprint, but also save money or generate increased revenue.
In the case of government outlays, Abbie will push for public-private partnerships and the use of grant funding to help augment public dollars. Some expenses, such as replacing the city's vehicle fleet with electric vehicles, can be phased, in conjunction with already planned replacement schedules as the useful life of the equipment ends.
Abbie knows the larger leadership issue is to make the commitment to move forward, and then work through the obstacles as they arise.