Jay Banner

Freshmen Kiera Dieter, left, and Victoria Lee, right, relax in the Gregory Gym pool Tuesday afternoon as temperatures outside reach above 100 degrees. If the trend continues Wednesday, Austin will tie the record number of above 100 degree days.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Today will be the 70th day this year with a temperature in the triple digits in Austin, breaking the record of 69 set in 1925, according to the National Weather Service website.

These sustained high temperatures have come along with a severe drought in the Austin area and much of Texas.

Geological sciences professor Jay Banner said La Niña, the phenomenon which cools the tropical Pacific Ocean, causes the warm and dry conditions in Central Texas, which have been more extreme during the drought.

From 1950 to 1957, Texas experienced continuous drought.

“Historically, for the past hundred years, that’s been the biggest drought by far,” Banner said.

He said the current drought has been going on for about a year and that weather models cannot easily predict how long it will last.

Banner said if this warm and dry trend continues for decades, it could be one line of evidence that global warming was the driving mechanism. He said regardless of global warming’s influence on the region’s current condition, weather models predict that increased levels of carbon dioxide will continue to cause the greenhouse effect.

“They all show that if we continue our business as usual with energy, there will be an increase in atmospheric temperatures,” Banner said.

Banner added that the drought is negatively affecting the agricultural industry in Texas.

“A lot of farmers’ crops are a total loss, and a lot of ranchers are having to sell their livestock,” Banner said.

The Lower Colorado River Authority which manages water supplies in Central and Southeast Texas, has water storage reservoirs that include Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan. Both of these combined are only 45 percent full, said LCRA spokeswoman Clara Tuma.

Tuma said the LCRA has a water management plan to regulate how much water is available. She said the plan takes long droughts, like the one in the 1950s, into account.

“The plan says if we have a repeat of that drought, it ensures that water would be available if conditions became as serious,” Tuma said.

The cities that receive water from the LCRA, including Austin, institute water conservation plans for citizens to follow.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re asking people to aggressively conserve because we don’t know when the rains will come,” Tuma said.

Austin will start stage 2 water restrictions Sep. 6. The schedule can be found at www.ci.austin.tx.us/water/.

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Beat the heat.

The Texas Legislature has failed to address climate change issues because, among other reasons, the state’s economy is based on fossil fuels, a UT geology professor said Wednesday.

Jay Banner spoke in the McCombs School of Business about his role in a bill addressing climate change that never made it out of a Texas Senate committee in 2009. The bill would have required 14 state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of Transportation, to file a report every two years addressing the effects of climate change on their operations.

Banner said the Texas Water Development Board, which ensures the state has enough water during droughts, would have been required to prepare for more severe droughts than they currently consider plausible. He said according to computer model projections, which he presented to the Legislature, Texas will shift to a more arid climate that could include longer periods of drought in the near future.

By failing to pass legislation addressing the issue, Banner said the Legislature effectively ignored the projections he presented to them.

During his talk, Banner presented data showing increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere coinciding with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

“One thing no one disagrees with are the accuracy and validity of this data,” Banner said. “There are things where there is a consensus and complete scientific certainty.”

UT law professor David Adelman said the disagreements between lawmakers on climate change are “pretty fundamental.” He said many Texas lawmakers are skeptical about the science of global warming and the effects it will have on the climate.

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said the legislature as a whole is more interested in capitalizing on economic opportunities than in addressing climate change.

“We are a very carbon-dependent economy not because we are evil but because we produce a lot of the nation’s energy,”
Strama said.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics, Texas is responsible for 16.4 percent of the nation’s energy production, which is more than any other state. Texas also leads the nation in wind energy capacity.

Strama said people who see addressing climate change issues as a threat to traditional sources of income present a threat to climate change legislation in Texas.

“We want to keep our status as the nation’s leader [in energy production],” Strama said. “The question is, ‘How do we lead the evolution to a low-carbon future?’”