Texas emits far more carbon dioxide than any other state. That’s partly due to our enormous oil and gas industry. But it’s also the result of our ongoing population boom. This year, we’ll add about 450,000 residents. Already, more than 29 million people call Texas home.
Many tout the growing population as an indication that Texas is more welcoming and prosperous than other states.
But as people pour into Texas and rapid growth occurs, our collective emissions increase and exacerbate climate change — the biggest long-term threat to the environment and human health.
My fellow environmentalists have proposed numerous emissions-reduction strategies, ranging from using more renewable energy to retrofitting older buildings so they waste less electricity on heating and air conditioning. These solutions are all sensible — but to truly slash our carbon footprint and preserve our open spaces, Texans have no choice but to limit the number of emitters moving to the state.
Texas’ population is soaring. It grows by 8,500 people every week — enough to pack AT&T Stadium in less than three months. If current trends continue, the population will reach 54 million by 2050.
This growth inevitably leads to urban sprawl. Across Texas, developers build 45 miles of new roads and 2,900 new housing units every week. That development comes at a huge cost to the environment. Texas loses about 118,000 acres of open space every year.
Our emissions also fuel climate change. Texas emitted a nation-leading 653 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016, the most recent year with state-level data. That’s 80 percent more than second place California, which released 361 million metric tons.
Those emissions aren’t solely from our oil and gas industry. Between 2005 and 2016, Texas emissions rose 8.7 percent, while energy-rich Oklahoma’s fell 8.8 percent. It’s no accident that Texas’ population grew twice as fast as Oklahoma’s during that period.
So what can be done to check this unsustainable growth and its dire consequences? For starters, local leaders could reconsider their permissive zoning codes, which allow developers to construct residential, commercial and industrial buildings almost anywhere with little consideration of the environmental tradeoffs. Our governor can stop the corporate giveaways that bring more people than jobs.
Ultimately, though, even well-planned development is still development. If Texas’ population keeps growing at the current rate, sprawl and emissions will inevitably rise.
Our leaders can’t block Americans in other states from moving here, but they can change policies that have made the United States in general, and Texas in particular, a magnet for migrants from all over the world.
Roughly 1.6 million immigrants moved to Texas between 2000 and 2012. And they collectively had 1.3 million children. In total, that’s 2.9 million new Texas residents due to immigration — 57 percent of the total population increase during that period.
By pushing for future cuts in immigration at the federal level, Texas officials could put our state on a more sustainable path without impacting any of our immigrant neighbors who are already here.
It’s time for Texans to treat unchecked growth as a serious threat to the environment.