Doom and climate equity focus of Planet Texas 2050 symposium at UT


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new illness is spreading around the world. Brought about by extreme swings in the weather, like droughts and freezing winters, climate anxiety is becoming a very real thing.

According to researchers from Yale, feelings of distress over living through climate change have soared in recent years. Last summer, many Central Texas farmers said they felt depressed over the shifts in weather in our area.

Addressing climate doom, also known as climate anxiety, is one of the focuses of this year’s Planet Texas 2050 symposium at the University of Texas.

The program is one of the school’s “Grand Challenges” and hopes to find solutions for Texans living in a changing world.

“The idea is that we’re producing new knowledge, but doing it in a way that matters to communities,” said Katherine Lieberknecht, an Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning at UT.

Lieberknecht studies climate equity in low income communities and was the inaugural chair of Planet Texas 2050 when the program began in 2016.

Is climate change happening in Texas?

The program brings together 120 researchers from across the campus to work on six projects aimed at addressing climate issues. Liberknecht said Texas is the perfect place to study these problems.

“We pretty much have every every extreme weather system under the sun is happening here in Texas in real time. But we’ve also done some really proactive thinking about how to bring communities together to address those challenges.”

Hurricanes are growing more extreme as a result of climate change. UT researchers are looking at the diseases they’re bringing into areas after they strike. (Credit: Todd Bailey/KXAN)

According to Program Director Heidi Schmalbach, Texas has extra challenges when confronting climate change, like a booming population. She said finding solutions required developing a shared language.

“The first few years of this initiative were really about building that shared language, the sharing of different frameworks and the methods that are coming from engineering or planning or the humanities,” Schmalbach said.

What is Planet Texas 2050

This year’s symposium will display some of the projects the team has been working on. Talks begin on February 27th and last through the 29th. Keynote speakers include Dr. Jonathan Foley, who is discussing the benefits of climate solutions on people and nature; and Pooja Tilvawala, founder of Youth Climate Collaborative.

“You have engineering and geosciences, and social sciences, urban planning, archaeology all represented together,” said Paola Passalacqua, a professor in the department of Civil Architecture and Environmental Engineering.

Passalacqua’s research into flooding brought her into Planet Texas 2050. “We’re actually going to have a proactive approach towards solutions.”

She said that this year’s symposium will focus not only on climate anxiety, but also urban planning and integrating younger people in finding solutions.

“We’re trying to understand what to do, recognizing the fact that we have multiple issues to be addressed at the same time and we got to find strategies that work across the issues that we have.”

The symposium will occur at the William C. Powers Student Activity Center on UT Austin’s campus. You must register ahead of time to attend the Planet Texas 2050 symposium.