Forming a Green Economy in a City Built on Black Gold Fortune

Photo by thiago japyassu

Houston, Texas, is a city that has long enjoyed the wealth and dividends of black gold. Often named the energy capital of the world, Houston has a plethora of opportunities available for those who speculate on the price of oil, extract oil and refine it into gasoline and diesel. 

The job market is cyclical in Houston; opportunities ebb and flow with global market shifts. The industry is designed to benefit the few powerful shareholders while workers are cycled off in oil-price downturns when the next boom-bust cycle turns bust. Clearly, inequity has long been a built-in feature in the American energy industry.

A new, green economy will be built on the concept of environmental equality. Is a safe and secure environment a human right? Our society may have not been faced with this question in such a crucial manner in human history. As our own behavior and addictions to fossil fuels, and more specifically, emitting carbon, have come to threaten the very existence of our planet, the need for government intervention in the structure of our economy is essential. 

It’s not easy to reference the “addiction to fossil fuels” in Texas, let alone in Houston. So many of our livelihoods have depended on oil for generations. It’s hard to accept the truth of what we’ve done to the environment, when in other ways we have done so much to improve the lives of many modern people through energy access. 

Yet the writing is on the wall for all global citizens. We are “sleepwalking toward climate catastrophe,” according to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, referencing a climate report released by the U.N. this week. 

“Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). “We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

Would a green economy be bad for Houston’s livelihood?

It’s natural to fear that a green economy would be bad for Houston. Realistically, a transition to a carbon-neutral economy will take decades to complete. We will need to use petroleum-based products for decades, too. Most oil-market analysts forecast a plateau in global oil demand in the mid 2030s. Until then, the battle to turn our energy systems green, in Texas and everywhere else in the world, will be a complex and intricate balance that brings in economics, government policy reform and self-sacrifice. 

I’m not certain that our society is prepared for the amount of sacrifice a green economy will take. As noted, many Houstonians will sacrifice their jobs and life-long careers. This is a huge challenge for our population, but more importantly it’s a huge opportunity. We have the chance to continue serving our fellow Americans by not only powering their lives and homes, but by giving the gift of a sustainable world that will last for many generations to come. 

We want our children and grandchildren to live in a healthy planet. We want the coral reefs of the oceans to thrive, and we want the waters to stop heating. We want our coastlines to survive and our forests to continue growing.

How investors have become activists in green energy

The bipartisanship in this country is in a sad state – just about the only thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree upon in Washington is that vaping and telemarketing are bad. How climate justice became a partisan issue is easy to understand. Our government is bought and paid for by Koch Industries and their likes. The New Yorker astutely pointed out the problem in September with its headline: “Money is The Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns.”

The industrial powers of our country are governing the environmental rules. (For truly incredible details on how Charles Koch has achieved this, I can’t recommend Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard enough.)

The companies that have strangled the decision-making among Washington conservatives have further loosened air-quality requirements beyond the point of recognition. What’s left of the environmental rules governing refiners and chemical makers are barely respected, either. 

Oil refiners and chemical makers have successfully created a worldwide addiction to gasoline and plastic. Unraveling these products from our world is nearly impossible for most of us. While it’s easy to get buried under the scope of our problem’s hopelessness, we can’t forget the small actions we can take to move the needle towards carbon neutrality. While our singular efforts are small, collectively, we can and will make change. 

Meaningful change is emerging in the form of climate equitable banking and lending. It’s actually happening. Investors have had enough with oil companies and don’t see a future in fossil fuels. This is really bad news for companies like Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP and Total. Exxon dropped from the top ten S&P 500 companies in market cap value this year for the first time since 1925, according to data from the S&P stock index as reported by Marketplace. As of November 1, The S&P 500 was up 21% in 2019 while the energy sector was up 1%, according to analysis by CNBC.

The private sector is now leading the public sector in addressing the climate issue, said international climate policy expert Elliot Diringer, in an interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin. He notes that the global youth movement has pushed the needle in terms of the political strength of the movement. 

“We need to increase the public — the political pressure on leaders over the coming year as they step forward to increase their ambition,” Diringer said. 

Renewable power is booming in Texas. But more work needs to be done

The share of wind and solar power feeding the Texas power grid has grown substantially over the last decade, which is great news for Texans concerned about the environment. The problem is our grid can’t rely solely on renewables that are dependent on changes in the weather. If the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing, our power grid is forced to utilize natural gas or coal-powered fueling. 

Adoption of renewables in the transportation sector has grown much more slowly in the Lone Star State. Electric vehicle sales have increased, but range anxiety and a lack of public charging infrastructure are extremely prohibitive in a major city like Houston. The barrier to entry for lower-income or even middle-income households makes purchasing an electric vehicle unrealistic until adoption grows and prices decline.

What can you do today to help move our economy toward a greener future? 

  1. Support the Houston METRO expansion plans. USA4R also partners with the STOP TXDOT I-45 group, which is another great way to get involved:
  2. Support incentives for renewable energy use. Here’s a look at Mayor Sylvestor Turner’s climate action plan:
  3. Care for your environment. Spend time volunteering, planting trees and beautifying our city. We encourage you to join Trees for Houston: