By Randy Lee Loftis
Texas Climate News
Back in 2009, when then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry quipped that Washington politics might stir dreams of Texas secession — “Who knows what may come out of that?” he asked – one result was a wave of condemnation, including by White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Other results were a micro-surge in secession talk on political channels and on bumper stickers, and an online petition urging Texas to leave – many signatures came from outside the state – but no popular wave, Richard Dunham of the Houston Chronicle found in 2012. (The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org and others concluded that Perry was being glib and never really advocated secession; although he was wrong, as are many people, in believing Texas has a special legal right to secede.)
So despite a little renewed talk about the subject in recent days, the independent Republic of Texas, 1836-46, largely remains yesteryear’s news. Nonetheless, Texas still likes to remind people that it could stand with the big powers if need be. What, then, might be a hypothetical Republic of Texas’ stance on a national commitment to fight climate change? Countries’ individual emission-reducing pledges are the basis for a binding agreement that climate negotiators at a Paris conference hope to finish by Dec. 11.
Texas has never had to take the global stage on climate change; it’s always been a defiant but, in the end, powerless subset of the U.S. diplomatic and scientific presence. As a nation having to explain itself to the world, Texas might feel lonely in challenging the science, causes and importance of climate change. The world’s governments have abandoned such doubts –as have most Texans, as Texas Climate News reported in October.
As a country, Texas would have been expected to submit to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change a plan to reduce its greenhouse pollution for the Paris conference that opened on Monday. By that time, 184 of 196 countries had sent in their plans. The 184 nations represent 98.4 percent of global climate-disrupting emissions, according to the U.K.-based news website Carbon Brief. Texas might not like it, but as a world power, it couldn’t refuse to file without suffering trade and diplomatic consequences.
The plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, are mixtures of facts and earnest intent, spin and posturing, and nods to domestic politics. Some, like Morocco’s, are detailed and ambitious; others, like Russia’s, are just a few pages of basically nothing, as National Geographic’s Craig Welch reported. The United States’ plan gets a “moderate” rating, about halfway between inadequate and sufficient, from the nonpartisan, science-based Climate Action Tracker. Together, the plans are the raw materials for an agreement in Paris meant to hold the rise in post-industrial global average temperatures to 3.8 degrees F (2 degrees C). – a limit many scientists regard as necessary to avoid dangerous global warming and related climate changes.
As a state, Texas doesn’t have a climate policy, unless repeatedly declining to adopt such a blueprint counts as one. But based on politicians’ statements, emissions numbers, economic statistics, scientific studies, nations’ submitted INDCs and the World Resources Institute-U.N. Development Program’s guidelines for writing them, it’s possible to project what a Texas INDC might look like.
So here is the Texas plan’s (completely imagined) executive summary.
To the Secretariat:
The Free, Independent and Sovereign Republic of Texas hereby submits its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Paris, France, Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015.
Before detailing the Republic’s INDC, Texas explains its climate change position. From time to time, Texas has asserted that the climate always has changed and always will, but not because of human influence; or is changing and might include a human influence, but not a significant one; or is changing, possibly with a significant human influence, but too little is known to amend policies; or is changing from human influence, but does not pose a serious threat; or is partly a product of wholesale scientific fraud. Texas maintains these positions simultaneously and reserves the right to blend them at will. In addition, Texas asserts that it is not subject to U.N. dictates, whether regarding the climate or the Alamo. While protecting its sovereign rights under international law, Texas nevertheless voluntarily chooses to submit this INDC in its well-known spirit of friendship. (The very name Texas, after all, was derived from “Tejas,” a word meaning “friends” in the language of the Caddo, a Native American people.)
First, the Parties should understand that Texas and its economy are big and therefore the Republic has big emissions of so-called climate-warming “greenhouse” gases. Prior to the Second Secession, Texas dominated emissions within the United States of America. Its 712.86 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion in 2013 were almost double those of its closest competitor state, California. Today, as an independent nation, Texas ranks sixth worldwide in CO2 emissions, finishing barely behind Germany and significantly ahead of Korea. It is worth noting that if South Africa were omitted, Texas’ fossil-fuel-related emissions would exceed those of the remainder of Africa.
Second, Texas’s economic strength reverberates. As an independent nation, Texas’ gross domestic product is almost $1.65 trillion, or 12th globally, just below Canada and above Australia. With a petroleum-refining capacity of approximately 5.1 million barrels per day, Texas ranks fourth worldwide, slightly below Russia and above Japan. Before its recent Second Secession, Texas was the leading user of coal to produce electricity among the 50 United States. Clearly, any restriction on the Texas economy has repercussions beyond Texas’ borders.
Texas asserts that it has significantly improved air quality without needless government mandates. It is the Republic’s position that clean power from Texas natural gas and wind has reached the marketplace in the absence of an oppressive and overreaching national policy restricting carbon dioxide emissions from the use of oil and coal. Texas further holds that the United States violated its own law in attempting to impose such restrictions, which were antithetical to prosperity. Since gaining its independence, Texas has maintained an open and vigorous climate research effort at its major national universities. Until this Texas-based research has proved unequivocally the need for action, Texas has ceased all national efforts to mandate reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that were imposed by the United States during statehood.
The Republic stands ready to engage with the world community. However, it specifically rejects the adoption of any legally binding requirement to reduce emissions in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris agreement.
That’s what an independent Texas’ climate submission could sound like, as nearly as can be divined from state leaders’ pronouncements and policies in recent years. Texas doesn’t have to submit anything to the U.N., but in a sense, it’s already sent the message.
Randy Lee Loftis, an independent journalist in Dallas, is senior editor of Texas Climate News.