I grew up a few miles outside of Dallas, and as anyone in the South can attest, heat could make or break plans for the day. However, I had other concerns that were less natural. On many occasions, I had swim practices canceled or playdates postponed because ozone levels were too high.
Texas is among the five worst states for most air quality measures. That is unacceptable. Only with statewide cooperation can we give Texas a literal breath of fresh air.
In the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report, two Texas cities once again made the cut for the top 10 most polluted cities. Houston is stuck in the same sixth place spot as previous years, but it has at least reduced its number of high ozone days. Dallas, in seventh, is only getting worse.
Cities are uniquely placed in the battle to save the planet. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities. Texas itself has four of the 11 largest U.S. cities.
As a result, Texas faces a significant share of the nation’s environmental problem. However, the cities themselves vary in their impact. Austin has only had eight high ozone days compared to Dallas’s 48. Cities should push each other to share tools and programs that work.
Historically, Austin has been a leader in sustainability. It has an earth-friendly energy (and actual green energy) unparalleled in other Texas cities. Brandi Burton, senior policy adviser to Mayor Steve Adler, says that Austin had one of the largest elected delegations from the U.S. at the 2015 Paris climate talks.
“In the last year, international, national and local dialogue about climate change became much more real,” Burton said. “Austin is leading in many ways and actively learning in others.”
One such leading initiative is the net zero community climate plan, Austin’s initiative to have net zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This would be a historic and vital step to reducing harmful emissions in Austin, but it requires individual action above all else.
“It’s not going to work unless the community owns that their actions add up to our local climate tally,” Burton said. “The city can do everything right and be as green as possible, but if local business, if local residences, people in their daily lives [don’t pitch in], we can’t reach that net zero greenhouse gas emissions target.”
Cities may be the frontline of this fight, but there also needs to be an effort at the state level. Texas House Bill 1961 would establish a fee for counties who exceed the National Ambient Air Quality’s limit for ozone. The fees could then be used for the low-income vehicle repair programs to reduce their emissions. These sorts of small measures will make the difference in reducing emissions.
We can all do more to improve our air, and after the hottest year in recorded history, now is the time to do it. City programs, individual behaviors and state policy must improve so that going outside means only checking the temperature, not the ozone.
Hallas is a Plan II freshman from Allen. Hallas is a Senior Columnist. Follow her on twitter @LauraHallas.