Community solutions to climate change

In San Antonio, Texas climate change has made summers hotter and thunderstorms stronger. City and cultural leaders are taking a progressive stance in addressing the issue. This segment is part of Peril and Promise, our ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, climate change. Lead funding is provided by P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by The Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.


In San Antonio, Texas, climate change has made summers hotter and thunderstorms stronger.

City and cultural leaders are taking a progressive stance in addressing the issue despite being in the middle of a state where climate change can be a difficult subject to broach.

This segment is part of an ongoing public media reporting initiative called 'Peril and Promise,' telling the human stories and solutions of climate change.

Reporter Chris Duel explains how the city is crafting its message to engage its residents.

June 27, 2017 -- just days after being elected mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg took his first action as mayor, signing a resolution in support of the Paris climate agreement...

But this is not just talk for San Antonio.

We're getting started.

...a big deal, considering San Antonio is a largely conservative city with many skeptics of climate change.

But San Antonio leaders have had to address the local effects of climate change -- hotter temperatures and increased storm events that have resulted in record flooding.

The city started a conversation with a survey of residents, called 'Resilient SA.'

Note, the phrase 'climate change' is not there.

So, when we go into the community and start talking with folks about climate, we're not necessarily going to lead with climate.

We want to talk to them about what their quality of life is.

We want them to talk about 'Have you noticed changes in your neighborhood in terms of weather patterns, in terms of heat?'

But the mayor holds fast to his feeling that for San Antonio, the wording isn't what matters here.

It's about the plans the city needs to make moving forward.

It really doesn't matter what you call it, you know.

There will be concerns.

We've called it sustainability.

We've called it resiliency.

We've called it global warming.

We've called it climate change.

Whatever you call it, what it means for communities is that we have to build resilience.

We have to build an adaptation strategy.

San Antonio has the largest city-owned utility in the country.

City Public Service Energy is fully onboard with progressive policies.

We've actually been on a plan to reduce our own emissions, and we would like to be working much more intensely with the rest of the community just for the benefit of the people who live here.

So much so, CPS Energy has given the University of Texas at San Antonio half a million dollars to come up with a climate action plan for the city.

Dr. Hazem Rashed-Ali with UTSA is the lead researcher for the project.

The climate action adaptation plan that we're developing will consist of two parts.

So, the first part is the climate action, which is essentially us developing a baseline of what's called the greenhouse gases inventory in San Antonio, which is a process of quantifying all the environmental impacts of different community activities -- so, like transportation, like energy use, water use, waste.

Then the adaptation part will start with doing what's called a climate projection.

So that's looking ahead into the future through 2050 and deciding what the climate of San Antonio is likely to be at that point of time.

So you have the city, a prestigious university, and a progressive utility company coming together to work on a plan to address the changing climate.

That's great, but what about the most important element -- the people?

Selling the idea of climate change means changing attitudes.

It helps when one of the city's biggest proponents is a well-known and beloved Catholic priest.

The official teaching of the Catholic Church is that climate change is real, it's happening, and we have a moral obligation to care for it, that God created us, and He gave us the Earth, and He said, 'Take care of it.'

And that's what we're trying to become more aware of in the Church, is that everything we touch potentially has an effect on our climate and on our planet, and so we have to really be aware of that and help our people to be aware of that.

One of the things we want to frame the discussion around is something around the idea of the good life.

What is the good life in San Antonio?

♪♪ And then frame it around 'Well, what happens when you get two weeks of 100-plus-degree temperature?

How does that affect your ability to enjoy the good life?'

The climate change conversation is already strong in San Antonio's architectural community, where new developments downtown, like the Pearl, create a community in itself where people can do almost everything without a car.

It is a hard sell, especially in Texas.

We love our cars, right?

So, San Antonio's work to address climate change is underway with citizens in the driver's seat with an eye to the future.

We have an absolute fundamental responsibility and obligation to the future generations.

And whenever I baptize a child nowadays, I always think, 'What kind of world is this child going to inherit?

Are they going to be constantly fighting to just stay alive because we have pretty much destroyed the Earth?'


Ready? 4, 3, 2...