Don’t mess with Dallas: How the city of Dallas is tackling climate change

The city of Dallas is home to over 1.3 million people and boasts a GDP of $512 billion as of 2016. Climate change could change all of that. What is the city doing to ensure it remains an economic powerhouse under a changing climate?

The effects of climate change

As recent hurricanes bring climate change and its effects to the limelight, media attention has focused on the impact of climate change on coastal cities due to seal level rise. What is less prevalent on the news is the significant impact that climate change will have even on inland cities [1]. Dallas is a prime example of an inland city that is far from escaping the effects of climate change.

Under a “business as usual” emissions scenario, the city of Dallas could face ~20 more days per year when the temperature reaches >100 F by mid-century, and over 100 total days annually when the temperature reaches >100 F by the end of the century. Furthermore, Dallas will be subject to more pronounced and severe droughts (~20% increase in duration by mid-century), while the majority of precipitation will occur all at once during the winter months. These changes will manifest themselves in the population not only through more heat strokes, but also through poorer air/ water quality. The result will be a migration of the middle class out of Texas into the Midwest [2]. It is prudent for the city of Dallas to take measures to mitigate the effects of climate change within the city to safeguard its population and future economy.

Current efforts by the city of Dallas

It wasn’t until 2014 that the city of Dallas first made sustainability a core focus of its Annual Report. In this report, the city set targets to curb greenhouse gas emissions from city government operations by 39% of 1990 levels by September 2017. Further, the city set a longer-term target to be carbon neutral by 2050 [3]. The city of Dallas took many steps to reach its sustainability goals by targeting its pseudo-“supply chain” inputs: air, land/ materials, and energy.

To improve air quality, the city promoted its “Green Ride” program to encourage carpooling or public transport, expanded its street car service in downtown areas, and replaced 113 vehicles (e.g. sanitation, buses) in its fleet with cleaner alternatives, among other actions [4].

To improve land/ materials management, the city is retrofitting lights (street, traffic, city building) to LED bulbs, building new facilities to LEED certified levels, promoting ENERGY STAR appliances in commercial/ residential buildings, adding >700 acres of green areas, and promoting recycling, among other actions [4].

To improve its energy use, the city has purchased enough wind energy credits to offset its 720 GWh of annual energy use [4]. While these actions do serve to aid the city of Dallas in its greenhouse gas emissions goals, there are mixed results in other programs, such as recycling, that require greater involvement from the population.

Recommendations

In order to achieve its long-term emissions targets, the city of Dallas can emulate three steps taken by cities such as Austin and Boston.

First, the city of Dallas needs to lay out a more concrete action plan till 2050 that comprises of 5-10 year aggressive targets to spur innovation and involvement. For example, the city of Austin set the target for all municipal operations to be carbon neutral by 2020, followed by a target to have zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Through such aggressive targets, the city of Austin is ensuring that its action plans are tailored towards increasing involvement from city residents. Moreover, the city’s resolution to reach zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 explicitly requires city staff and stakeholders to publish periodic goals from 2020 to 2050 in order to measure and drive progress [5].

Second, the city of Dallas needs to form strategic partnerships with business in the city that can help drive its energy goals. For example, the city of Austin has partnered with Austin Energy to align on a generation plan to 2025, and explicitly has a resolution to make Austin Energy the “leading utility in the nation for greenhouse gas emissions” [6].

Third, the city of Dallas can force engagement from its residents through pricing/ incentive mechanisms. For example, the city of Boston is attempting to ban the use of plastic bags at retailers in the city. Further, many retailers now charge 10 cents to provide even a paper bag. This has incentivized the population to re-use/ bring their own bags [7].

As the city of Dallas continues its efforts towards a clear, more sustainable future, an open question remains as to how the city can enforce its targets, and whom the enforcement should affect. Additionally, as community-wide emissions target require active participation from the population, how should the city balance education and pricing/incentive mechanisms to bring its residents and businesses on board? These questions will inform the city on how to define its roadmap from 2020 to 2050 to ensure that Dallas remains the bustling metropolitan center it is today.

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SOURCES

[1] Macon, Alex. “Climate change will be very bad for Dallas county”. D-Magazine. 20 July 2017. Available at: https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2017/07/climate-change-will-be-very-bad-for-dallas-county/ [Accessed 3 November 2017]

[2] Pryor, S. C., D. Scavia, C. Downer, M. Gaden, L. Iverson, R. Nordstrom, J. Patz, and G. P. Robertson, 2014: Ch. 18: Midwest. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. Available at: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/regions/great-plains [Accessed 3 November 2017]

[3] City of Dallas. (2014) City of Dallas Annual Report. Available at: http://annualreport.dallascityhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2014-Annual-Report_English.pdf [Accessed 4 November 2017]

[4] Office of Environmental Quality, Dallas. “Sustainability Plan Progress Report”. 21 March 2014. Available at: http://greendallas.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/QOL_sustainplanreport_032414.pdf [Accessed 3 November 2017]

[5] Goodall, Jannette. Resolution 20140410-024. 10 April 2014. Available at: http://austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Sustainability/Climate/Resolution_No_20140410-024.pdf [Accessed 4 November 2017]

[6] Gentry, Shirley A. Resolution 20070215-023. 15 February 2007. Available at: http://austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Sustainability/ACPP_resolution_20070215-023.pdf [Accessed 4 November 2017]

[7] An act reducing plastic bag pollution. S424. 119th General Court of Massachusett. 19 January 2017. Available at: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/S424 [Accessed 4 November 2017]

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6 thoughts on “Don’t mess with Dallas: How the city of Dallas is tackling climate change

  1. Super cool! A question that comes to mind is whether the efforts by the city of Dallas could inspire nationwide climate change combat goals? The country that I’m from, Denmark, boast the lowest Co2 emission per capita. The way this has been achieved has been through aggressive goal setting (similar to your recommendations for Dallas Ccity) and by inspiring citizens to do their individual efforts to reduce Co2 footprint. For example, 36 percent of trips to work or school in Copenhagen are made by bike, and more than 20,000 cyclists enter the city center at peak hours, filling its 249 miles of cycle tracks. In addition, half of the turbines in the harbor wind farm, known as Middelgrunden, were funded by individual Copenhagen shareholders. Copenhagen also aspires to become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025 though a replacement of coal with biomass, adding more wind and solar electricity to the grid, upgrading energy-guzzling buildings, and by luring even more residents onto bikes and public transit. Copenhagen has acted as an inspirational “beacon leader” for Denmark, which now generates almost 50% of its energy through wind energy. I hope Dallas City can do the same for the US!

  2. This article was really interesting to me in light of the strong criticism facing the city of Houston following severe flooding this summer — I remember reading a piece in the New York Times back in September (linked below) and wondering why the government and policymakers hadn’t done significantly more to prevent the flood damage that occurs so frequently in Houston. I’m not sure if this applies as much to Dallas given its geographic position, but one factor which contributed so heavily to flooding in Houston was the city’s rapid real estate growth, resulting in over-development in floodplains or other areas which were historically native grasslands providing a natural “sponge” against flooding. As a result, one additional measure that I think all city and municipal governments will need to take into account is potentially implementing policies to curb development in flood-prone areas, even if this may come at the cost of slowing down short-term economic growth.

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/hurricane-harvey-flood-houston-development.html

  3. As a native “Dallasite,” I actually had no idea that the city was doing so much to reduce its carbon footprint, so I definitely agree that engaging the population and educating the community on the various initiatives are necessary. To support this, Dallas actually did pass a plastic bag ban law in 2015 but it was quickly repealed after plastic bag manufacturers and residents sued the city because “Texas state law prohibits taxes on containers” (see link below). Dallas arguably did not understand its stakeholders and likely prevented itself from passing a new plastic bag law after the 2015 misstep. Going forward, it should do more due diligence before acting while also educating residents and companies on the benefits of these actions.

    I think that one struggle Dallas and other cities will consistently face is the notion that climate change “is not my problem.” From a devils advocate perspective, without a global or nation-wide mandate, the actions that Dallas plans to take will likely have very little impact on climate changes in Dallas. So I think a key question is how can Dallas join the broader conversation and impact nation-wide action?

    https://www.npr.org/2015/06/12/413849134/dallas-city-council-repeals-plastic-bag-fee

  4. You bring up some interesting points to consider in the battle against climate change. While we think of climate change as a macro/global problem it is also a micro/city problem. I think many of the methods you mentioned will help Dallas battle climate change, but the city must also focus on leveraging its local, state, and national relationships. While Dallas can implement its own strategies, by gaining both monetary and political support from larger political bodies, cities can better implement a coordinated climate change policy. Further, by joining with other cities there can be a lot of shared learning and synergies. Dallas could also look to financial partners both locally and across the country to help the city finance new infrastructure projects that offer benefits for the municipality as well as solid risk adjusted returns to investors. Overall, Dallas, like all cities who wish to battle climate change, must leverage as many resources as possible to be successful.

  5. Excellent analysis of a city’s struggle with the effects of climate change.

    From a cynic’s perspective, it’s clear that Dallas (and all southern US inland cities for that matter) has a lot to lose from the effects of climate change, but that it faces a tragedy of the commons problem when other cities, states and nations across the world don’t follow its lead. Cities and municipalities, particularly those without the resources to combat the effects of climate change (such as the hurricanes to which you refer), are perfect exemplars of what mitigation of climate change can entail. Perhaps it will be easier to achieve political consensus around issues of climate change when the changes seen are so close to home, and when local politicians can point to direct economic stimulus in the form of strategic partnerships with energy companies like Austin Energy. Thank you for sharing this movement in the right direction.

  6. Very exciting and super important topic not only to the city of Dallas but also to the entire country. Whilst I agree that the city of Dallas can and should drive climate change agenda on a city level, the city of Dallas doesn’t exist in isolation from the rest of the US (and the rest of the world). I believe current initiatives implemented in Dallas will certainly have a positive impact on rising temperature problem. One major recommendation I would like to make for the city of Dallas is to engage its neighboring cities in similar initiatives. I have never been to Dallas myself, but by looking on the map, it becomes clear that Fort Worth can have a huge impact on climate change efforts implemented by the city of Dallas. If Fort Worth doesn’t set aggressive emission reduction agenda, doesn’t engage its residents in waste reduction program, doesn’t build strategic partnerships with business to focus on energy goals – all the great job that the city of Dallas does will be made redundant. Fort Worth is an obvious example, but there are other industrial cities in the US that need to be involved in order to make an actual difference.

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