Texas and Global Warming – How bad is transportation and how can we fix it?

Highway interchange
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Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas

This article is part of a series highlighting the science on how global warming is impacting Texas, the largest sources of pollution, solutions for cutting emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and steps for adapting to those climate changes which are now inevitable.

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With 192.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released in 2020. Texas’ transportation sector
alone is responsible for more global warming pollution than the entire economies of all but three states and more than 179 countries, including Pakistan, Venezuela and Iraq.

Most of us realize that light-duty vehicles – cars, pickups and SUVs – are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions – accounting for nearly three-fifths of emissions – from the transportation system nationally.

Those emissions can be significantly reduced by getting more people traveling by foot, bike and transit and expanding the use of electric vehicles to include buses and e-bikes.

In 2017, more than four in five trips taken by Americans were taken by car, pickup truck, SUV,
or van. Shifting some of these trips to transit, walking and biking can make an immediate impact. Expanding transportation options can reduce the total energy demand of the transportation system, making it easier to power the system with renewable energy. Shifting from driving to transit, biking, and walking has the added benefit of addressing the many other impacts of widespread automobile dependence, including dangerous and congested streets.

Additionally, we often overlook other forms of transportation, including aerospace and cargo ships, are also significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The largest sector of the aerospace industry, the commercial aircraft industry, contributed 8% of U.S. transportation emissions in 2020 and Texas is a major contributor. 18 of the 20 largest aerospace companies in the world, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have major operations in Texas.

According to TxDOT, Texas ports, including in Houston and Corpus Christi, “move more cargo
than any other state—more than 607 million tons in 2020, including 464 million tons of international cargo and 143 million tons of domestic cargo.” With the expansion of the Panama Canal, freight traffic at the Port of Houston is expected to increase by 56% over the next 20 years, according to the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.

The aerospace industry and shipping both face significant technological hurdles, but progress is being made. A report from Clean Air Task Force finds that “decarbonizing the global aviation sector will require significant investment in and policy support for an expanded suite of clean energy solutions beyond only biofuels, including low-emissions hydrogen and synthetic fuels, electricity, and direct air capture.” Additionally, The Ship it Zero campaign is urging Amazon, IKEA, Target, and Walmart to abandon dirty fossil-fueled ships, and commit to ship products on zero-emissions ships by 2030. Port Houston has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050, “working toward eventually eliminating dockside emissions, transitioning trucks to low/no emissions vehicles, helping implement green shipping corridors as well as green marine and
road fuels.”


Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas

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