Abrupt Climate Change: In Hurricane Harvey, Texans Reap What They Sow

A century and a half of Texas oil fueled Hurricane Harvey
Science informs us that Texas oil fueled Hurricane Harvey.

“Hurricane Harvey is abrupt climate change. And it shows collapse of the atmosphere and ecosystems that threatens to destroy the biosphere and end being… Texas’ war against science and the natural world must draw to an end. Like waking up after a long drinking binge, it is time for Texans to sober up and accept their living large – as if the land, water, and air have no value – has brought them to the edge of utter ruin.” — Dr. Glen Barry

After 25 years of writing regarding looming abrupt climate change and biosphere collapse, nonetheless I find no succor that my predictions have come true with Hurricane Harvey. Firstly, my heart-felt sympathy goes out to the hardy Texans who continue to weather nature’s wrath on the Gulf Coast. I have had the fortune to spend some time in Port Aransas and Rockport areas visiting family and it is a beautiful spot full of warm, generous people.
However, let there be no mistake (now comes the “tough love” part). Hurricane Harvey is a man-made disaster that has directly resulted from Texans’ oil addiction, anti-science denial, disdain for common sense regulations, and super-sized lifestyles.
So where did all that rain come from anyway? It’s global warming stupid.
The basics of climate science have been known for 100 years. Simply, what has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico with Hurricane Harvey is all about heat, which is growing because of fossil fuel emissions (the greenhouse gases that are released trap heat), including by Texans. Since 1970 the average temperature in the South has risen 3.3° F. Galveston Texas set a shocking 33 record temperatures since Nov. 1st of last year. Across Texas temperatures have been averaging 10° F warmer than usual.
At its most basic level, this warmed air holds more water, making possible Hurricane Harvey’s 52 inches of rain in areas around Houston. Warming oceans expand in volume and melting ice combine to raise sea levels. In just the past 50 years, Galveston Texas’ local sea level has risen by 12.5 inches, resulting in coastal erosion and more powerful storm surges. On average storm surges are 7 inches taller due to global warming.
It’s global warming stupid
Gulf of Mexico waters are much warmer than usual and rarely cool down, feeding hurricanes. The average sea surface temperature of the Texan Gulf Coast has risen from 86° F to 87° F over a few decades. As Harvey approached the Texas coast, Gulf ocean temperatures were between 2.7° F to 7.2° F above average. This past winter for the first time the Gulf of Mexico never fell below 73° F. Each degree of heat results in 3-5% more moisture in the air. Add to this a diminished Jet Stream and other high level winds that are no longer blowing (likely due to Arctic melting), and you have storms that linger in one location like Harvey did.
The science is rock solid that we are transforming the Earth in ways that increase the likelihood of extreme storms and may even make the environment uninhabitable.  Climate change is but one (albeit deadly in its own right) of several human caused environmental crises that threaten to destroy our one shared biosphere. You can either believe in science or in ghosts in the sky. If you choose solely the latter you open yourselves up to avoidable cataclysmic devastation.
Any further climate change denial of the sort prevalent in Texas, and refusal to change behaviors to pollute far less, is a willful death wish. Not only for Texans, but also for South Asia and other areas being hammered by the same oil fueled forces of abrupt climate change.
Frankly, often Texans are egotistical to the point of being naively cocksure (i.e. what sort of motto is “Don’t Mess with Texas”). Many are uneducated and don’t understand the world around them, and are proudly boastful of the fact.
For generations Texans have over-built wherever their hearts desired. Floodplains, wetlands, riverbanks, coast lines, amidst chemical plants – there was no regulation to their sprawl – because they are god’s chosen people. And regulations are for commie pinkos.
Since 1866 Texans have pumped the remains of dead creatures to the surface to be burned for transport and heat. Nearly 3.5 million barrels of crude oil are produced a day in Texas. Further, Texas is a leader in industrial animal agriculture – particularly cattle –  which occupies much land and emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases. This polluting resource gluttony is the engine behind a warming world and makes Texans directly responsible for their own suffering from Hurricane Harvey.
Texans – in the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey, have reaped what they have sown – disruption of the natural world. From oil to cattle, urban sprawl to anti-intellectualism, very few if any regions globally have as much historical responsibility for abrupt climate change as Texas. It is fitting that the Houston/Beaumont area, where oil was first produced commercially some 150 years ago, has been devastated by abrupt climate change.
Texas oil fueled Hurricane Harvey.
As SCIENCE (a method of logical examination that seeks truth) identified that burning fossil fuels was warming the atmosphere, Texans doubled down, not only denying but also willfully obstructing the truth. For decades Texas politicians and oil companies have lied and obfuscated the truth in order to eke out a few more years of profits from deadly fossil fuels.
Disregarding established science has consequences, as those along the Texas Gulf Coast have come to realize.
And as for that Texas economic miracle? It is not too hard to create an artificial boom economy based upon ecocidal destruction of nature and the atmosphere. But when the bubble bursts and the boom ends, and you are left in desolate flooded or parched ecosystems, death comes swiftly from the storm.
Hurricane Harvey is either the end or the beginning
Hurricane Harvey is abrupt climate change. And it shows collapse of the atmosphere and ecosystems that threatens to destroy the biosphere and end being.
It doesn’t have to end this way. Texans can strive for a dose of humility as they go cap in hand to ask the rest of the nation to bail them out (as they have refused so often to do for others). Texans are always for small government until they need help. Yet there should be no funds unless the Texas mess – lack of regulation, oil dependency, urban sprawl, and anti-science denial – is addressed. This includes commitments to dramatically cut and soon end emissions from Texas oil.
Meaningful recovery in Texas will require pulling back from the coasts, restoring natural river ways, wetlands, and floodplains;  and otherwise REGULATING development. Once again ecosystems must surround human endeavors in order to provide services such as absorbing rainwater. In a world whose climate is abruptly changing, Texans are called upon to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and exclusively towards renewable energy – both wind and sun are plentiful.
We must come together and declare climate peace by ushering in an age of ecological restoration.
And let’s start teaching science again in Texas before their prevalent anti-science hate kills us all.
Texas’ war against science and the natural world must draw to an end. Like waking up after a long drinking binge, it is time for Texans to sober up and accept their living large – as if the land, water, and air have no value – has brought them to the edge of utter ruin.
Hurricane Harvey was fueled by Texas oil. Until this truth is acknowledged and responded to, there will be no recovery along the Texan Gulf Coast, and the situation there portends the fate of all of humanity.


  1. Good article and very worrying. I have a friend living in Houston, so far he has been alright as he researched very carefully where to buy his house.

  2. Thank you. Another excellent essay.
    Overpopulation. Watching footage on TV I couldn’t help but think there are just too many people on the planet, and so many crammed into Houston. I know people who are having three and four children and not understanding consequences and relationship to climate change. Overpopulation is definitely the root cause of #ecocide.
    I’m grateful for your continued focus.

  3. I share your concern and frustration. The truth about climate change has gone from being “inconvenient” to being inarguable, and while all of us can do our best to reduce our emissions, buy smart and be conscious, humanity has zero chance of surviving this global crisis without corporate and government buy-in at the highest levels. I am not religious but I pray for our souls.

  4. I find it truly mind boggling, as a foreigners educated in the USA that a country world reknowned for its prestugious universities, technological development, scientific breakthroughs, innivative spirit would be so incredibly primitive and irrational when it comes to accepting the Facts, Science and Reason behind global climate change. It is truly galling to see the USA go backwards and let countries like China, India and Germany take world lesdership in the inevitable transition to a low carbon economy. It is staggeting to see the USA so subservient corruptly do, to the Fossil Fuel Lobby and so wilfully playing dumb when refusing to see the huge potential of renewables – clenan, renewable, locally produced, will ensure energy independence, are job intensive, and now low cost. How incredibly blind and dumb is this administration? Anybody’s Guess. I’d say it’s pretty bad.

  5. I am also appalled at what has happened and totally agree on the impact of fossil fuels, but am very disappointed that there is no mention of the massive Animal Agriculture industry in Texas and the huge implication that has for the effect on Climate Change – from the corn and soy grown to feed cattle, to massive cattle ranches and their “exports of beef and calves” “hogs”, “chickens” and dairy products. Among the states, Texas is ranked #1 for total livestock and livestock product receipts. It’s ranked #2 for total agricultural receipts, behind California. It is an indisputable fact that Animal Agriculture is the single (or if you want to argue) one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions plus a major contributor to environmental destruction, water way pollution (streams filled with toxic chemicals flowed into the Gulf of Mexico creating the biggest ocean dead zones yet, toxic air etc. Yet, even in this very excellent article, no mention of the “cow” in the room is mentioned. If Texas are responsible for this mess by building to close to the ocean, unregulated oil fields etc, then the finger MUST be pointed at the Animal Agriculture industry which is as big if not a bigger player in the destruction wrought by and the future negative impact that Texas will have on the rest of the USA (and the world for that matter – we are all connected).

  6. Don’t think they will remember what they sow.That’s the problem with people : they ten forget.Only a handfull do not forget.Big sheep herds are still believing in the wrath of God.And in what Trum davocates : it ‘s a hoax .

  7. Dear Dr. Barry and All:
    With the occurrence of devastating Harvey, at last the time has come for an action by the National Academy of Sciences that I have long contemplated.
    Before I start, may I say that I m a research scientist (now retired but still active), but I will never be elected to the NAS. I am not of that caliber; I’m a simple journeyman of science who has made a few small contributions to mathematics and ecology/conservation in the form of articles in professional journals. But I have a proposal for the giants in my field:
    A select committee representing the entire NAS, made up of members who are leaders in atmospheric science and ecology should write an open letter to the President. This letter should be fully public and delivered to the New York Times and the Washington Post. It should say the following, or something equally strong:
    “On behalf of the NAS, we request an open meeting with you, Mr. President. We insist that the public be fully informed on the progress of this meeting, and that reporters should be present who may tell the story of the meeting without any hindrance. Your response must be fully disclosed to the American people. The subject of the meeting must be: Climate change in full detail, with the consequences of the denial that is now prevalent.
    “If you refuse to allow such a meeting, we intend to inform the American public, discussing in detail the consequences of your action.”
    Such a letter from the NAS could so hold the President’s feet to the fire as to force him and his advisors to be accountable to the nation for his opinions and his actions and inactions. Following the publication of the letter, the NAS and the scientific community should maintain strong, vocal pressure on the present Administration. There is no telling what the effect of such a campaign might be, especially on the 2018 elections.
    I intend to present this proposal to other venues, similar to this one. Please publicize this initiative.
    Yours sincerely,
    Stevens Heckscher, Ph.D.

  8. Brilliant, Glen! Pray people listen and sober up in time. Life on Earth is worth the fight to overcome such arrogance and such devil-may-care attitudes and lifestyles! Will be sharing this one. Keep up the good fight! Craig

  9. Well if the Texans were the global super-criminals that this post and subsequent comments appear to suggest, they would truly stand condemned by all of us innocent little green frogs caught up in their selfish assault on our planet.
    But that’s not the problem, is it? We are just as much to blame as the ‘loud and proud’ Texans. It is no excuse to argue that in some respects of this global human crisis, Texans are a bit more guilty than a lot of other people.
    It is our planet and our mess, not just theirs. If we’d been a bit more honest and courageous, we would have done so much to combat the coming climate catastrophe, that by now, the tardy Texans would be standing out like a sore thumb, and would have seen, by contrast, the error of their ways. Instead, it’s just one group of warm frogs pointing green froggy fingers at those bad Texan toads on the other side of the same cooking pot.

  10. While news can be framed in political terms, it may be important for all those involving themselves to gain historical, geological, and biological/behavioral understanding.
    I appreciate many of the well-considered comments appearing above.
    Geologically, east Texas in the Houston environs, is the floodplain of the Rio Brazos. The “emergencies” you often read of in the Mississippi/Ohio and to the south in that basin are, similarly, periodically flooded areas in which humans built due to the soil fertility of alluvial areas.
    Historically, Texas occurred because Spain, and then Mexico could not control the indigenous, neither the more sedentary Puebloans, whom they attempted to enslave through missions in Nuevo Mexico (I here speak of the original territorial name. We retain a state name derived from that, where the Puebloan cultures importantly connected with the Comanche Empire).
    The mix of French, British, Spanish and expatriate US elements became Mississippi traders along that river basin.
    Mexico after 1820, invited the immigration of all who would promote European-style culture. Such expats as Steven Austin, David Crockett, became what was termed “Empresarios”: immigrants who were invited, granted status and land, in return for maintaining the area under the central government.
    These expats, while lauded by the US, actually expressed disgust with their original natal government, leaving the US in a documented disgruntled manner. This is why, when they then revolted against Mexico, they originally sought to be a nation.
    Because Mexico then mounted a slow but certainly overwhelming response, the empresarios negotiated for US annexation, knowing they could never make it on their own.
    This is why Texas has a different written relationship with the Federal government than any other state.
    (I will not here go into the specifics of why other plains and western states have their own few generations of friction with the US central government, although they, too, have well-documented histories clearly exhibiting why this phenomenon occurred. You know well that the slave states desired to retain their economies, and thus began that famous civil war. You also know why the mormon cult sought to escape the USA to establish a theocracy)
    Adding that cotton/slave economy assured the intensity of the proven heritable impulse of humans to think and vote as did their primary role models.
    Because Texas is subtropical, and in part fed by population sources to the south, as well as China and elsewhere, there remain there others who are not republican. The problem remains, however, of the possibly recently (in the past 10k years or so) evolved pressure toward submissive personality. That said (there is quantifiable biological evidence of this), the other two highly social primate genera, Baboon and Pan, exhibit almost indistinguishable similarities to our own social behaviors.
    For all the confusion raised by our having evolved symbolic verbal language, with all its related associations – deception, self-deception, finely-gauged perceived reciprocity, being the most important – our actions do not differ substantially from those other primates. As one gains more knowledge about all the mentioned species, this has become more and more clear.
    Left out by the way, was the betrayal of the “Indian Territory”, Oklahoma, due to oil occurring there as well. That state, formed by the expulsion of eastern forest indians by such as Jackson (someone all-too like Trump, was a racist who literally betrayed his erstwhile allies of a previous war), quickly reversed its sanctuary intent, under the influence of moneyed land barons (Most of the early US wealth was concentrated in real estate profiteering).
    From exploring this last activity’s history, one can gain a view of the structure upon which the present is based. Wars use excess reproduction and young males as slaves to attain the same goals which Glen identified as motivating the fossil fuel-based culture.
    As a cognitive scientist, , one sees how human cognitions, behaviors, motivations and movements do not in the least differ from those of other animals, particularly, fission-fusion social animals.
    Technology is merely utilization of abiotic resources along with the usual biotic.
    Every pattern from racial and intercultural violence to dispersal patterns, reflects paths taken by other animals.
    Crowd behaviors even reflect responses shared by bacteria.
    I have often listened to distress and aggression/territorial, and mating calls of numerous species. Each instance , including the distress calls of young and subadults, such as the DACA outrage, can be accurately compared to the motivations extant in many species.

  11. Pardon me for not editing – Please add to paragraph 4:
    From the sedentary Puebloans to the highly mobile Comanche, Kiowa, Apache. the Comanche were the most numerous and aggressive, controlling from Kansas to, intermittently, Guanajuato .
    and, in the 14th, instead of War . . . :
    Through war, empresario-type elements use young males, who seek identification with high status . . .

  12. I am simply grateful, as an inhabitant of a more northern clime, that the worst impacts of climate change (at least in the US) will fall more directly on those Southerners in willful denial.
    God loves the South!

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