On the drive back from part one of the “San Antonio Environmental Challenges Conference: Opportunities in Resilience” hosted by Rackspace on Valentine's Day, it struck me that this conference was not about how to prevent climate change. Rather, it was mainly about how we, as a city (and a planet) should prepare for the effects of climate change appearing on the horizon.
While it's likely too late to prevent climate change, it's not too late to join in on the conversation about what to do about it. Part two of the conference, organized by Solar San Antonio and imagineSanAntonio, will take place this Friday at Rackspace, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Click here to register. Local and national speakers will lead talks on electricity supplies, ozone/public health concerns, alternative fuels, next steps and more.
Rising sea levels, wildfire, extreme weather, and other risks involved in climate change will have a direct impact on human-made systems and infrastructure. How do utilities prepare for flooding and wildfires? What will changing weather/rain patterns mean for South Texas aquifers?
San Antonio Water System's recent decision to ditch the pipeline and instead invest more in desalination seems in tune with these discussions. What good is a pipeline if there won't be enough water to go around?
"Science and reason lost the battle on prevention (of climate change). We are now in a situation where we can no longer prevent what's going to happen," said Lanny Sinkin, executive director of Solar San Antonio during his opening remarks. "However, we are not going to discuss worst-case scenarios here - we're discussing mid-level scenarios," that will need to be addressed by local, state and national stakeholders.
"Look at who is here: (representatives from) H-E-B, USAA – these people know ... we have to do something about it. We don't want to be caught in a wildfire, we don't want to be caught in a flood."
The prevention battle may be over, but the war is far from. Conservation tactics and lowering green house gas emissions are still an important piece to a sustainable future. Rackspace, for instance, has dedicated itself to become a leader in corporate environmental sustainability, but it also comes down to the individual and city planning levels.
"If you can manage growth – and I don't mean that by keeping developers from doing what they want to do – but there has to be some kind of a cost associated with developing far from the city center that would be greater than building closer to the city center where there are already utilities (and infrastructure)," said imagineSanAntonio founder Bob Wise.
After taking a moment to honor the passing of Bill Sinkin, “a San Antonio monument” to civil rights and solar power, District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg addressed the more than 100 attendees.
“We’re making extreme progress (in San Antonio),” Nirenberg said, but many stakeholders still need to realize that the "economy and the environment go hand in hand ... we can’t separate the conversation.”
Nirenberg introduced Lt. Gen. Kenneth Eickmann who retired in 1998 from the U.S. Air Force serves on the CNA Military Advisory Board and deputy director of the Center for Energy Security at UT-Austin, the “think tank for Energy Security,” he said. Eickmann spoke from first-hand experience, the sea level is rising.
"Whether you believe that is because of Greenhouse gases or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s happening,” he said.
Natural resources have a direct tie to military engagements around the world, Eickmann explained. "Projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world."
The forum also hosted speakers and panels on water supply, heat/wildfires and carbon footprint analysis.
“We don’t want to be reactive to flooding," said Steve Graham, assistant general manager of the San Antonio River Authority. "We want to be pro-active ... (but) government can only do so much. Also there is personal responsibility.”
This need has furthered their efforts in proper education for developers and to the public. The low impact development (LID) program asks that we “don’t treat water as a waste, but as a resource ... sustainability doesn't have to cost more."
The research presented by Anton Derkach of McKinsey and Company looked at the New York-based research firm's study of the Gulf Coast performed in collaboration with Swiss Re, the second largest reinsurer in the world based in Zurich. Their work provides an in depth look of the coast's geology, infrastructure, and economic vulnerabilities that charts out risk management practices (adaptations) and investments needed to prepare for extreme weather.
Using Hurricane Katrina as a baseline, the 2010 study reveals a $350 billion price tag on economic damage by 2030 from extreme weather fueled by climate change. Spending $50 billion to overhaul building codes, reinforce beaches and protect wetlands may let Gulf Coast communities avoid about $135 billion in losses a year, according to the report.
What San Antonio – and every city, really – needs is a study similar to this. Find our weaknesses, our strengths, and decide where to invest.
"We haven't had the discussion to really identify the critical infrastructure here that is needed to survive in the worst-case (or mid-level) scenario," Sinkin said. "We can't stop (asking questions) here."
Presentations from day one's speakers can be downloaded at www.imagineSanAntonio.org.
Speakers for part two include District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, Toyota of North America General Manager Kevin Butt, CPS Energy Executive vice President Cris Eugster, scientist Mary Hayden of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Assistant Director of Strategic Planning and Urban Design Mark Brodeur and keynote speakers Les Shepard, director of UTSA's Texas Sustainable Energy Institute, and Councilman Ron Nirenberg.
Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this article.
*Featured/top photo courtesy of Natalie King/Rackspace.