Comment of the Day: Houston’s Population Forecast Doesn’t Account for the Weather

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON’S POPULATION FORECAST DOESN’T ACCOUNT FOR THE WEATHER “These studies always miss the boat on the climate change; I’d be surprised if population growth in Houston and the surrounding area hasn’t plateaued and maybe even begun to decrease by 2040. Let me put it this way: If even the most conservative projections are correct, I wouldn’t want to be living here then. If you think the flooding and the summer temperatures are bad now . . .” [Christian, commenting on Houston’s Population Will Break 10M by 2040, Says METRO Study] Illustration: Lulu

13 Comment

  • Houston is a critical piece of the nation’s infrastructure.
    Unless we’re talking collapse of global trade and the oil and gas industry as we know it then climate change won’t be slowing Houston’s roll.
    With the exposure Louisana and surrounding communities have to sea level rise I’d be willing to bet climate change could increase houston’s population even.

  • I think it’s safe to say that Christian might have misread or perhaps misunderstood “even the most conservative projections.”

  • Only an American with little conception of the world would write such an inane thing. Historical circumstance and geography largely explains the relative dearth of humanity in the Americas.

    Yes, it’s going to get hotter. Yes, flooding is going to get worse. No, it won’t stop Houston, at least by 2040. Far too many resources to exploit here and nearby. Far too well-placed a deep-water port.

    The only way Houston doesn’t boom by 2040 is if we get a nuclear or petrochemical disaster that makes it uninhabitable.

  • yeah I’m just glad my property is 135′ above (current) sea level…

  • The true reality that no study is going to tell ya. Many “positive growth” statistics, studies and estimates for cities will have changed by 2040.

  • Climate change is something that can be adapted to. It just takes money, and in the grand scheme of things not really very much money. Yes, entire neighborhoods and some communities will be wiped out, and it will mean absolutely nothing to the region. The region exists because there are jobs to be had, and that circumstance is for all intents and purposes independent of climate change.
    Joel is right that Houston is a critical piece of the nation’s infrastructure, and that isn’t likely to change, but that infrastructure isn’t very labor-intensive once it is built, and labor underpins Houston’s real estate markets; and Houston’s infrastructure does not facilitate a cost comparison that is especially favorable to labor-intensive industries or high-wage industries by comparison with other large cities in Texas or the Sunbelt or for that matter many smaller cities.
    Houston’s fate in this medium-range forecast is inextricably linked with the fortunes of the oil and gas industry. That is the plain and simple truth. This is an industry that relies upon demand growth to a large extent even to persist in the form it does — much less to grow itself. The industry is not going to go away, and I say that with categorical certainty; and the only way that we are likely to witness declining global hydrocarbon demand would be as a result of the developing world backtracking on…development. However, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that there will be at least as much tumult in the next several decades as there has been in the prior several decades. The possibility of a big bust that squeezes North American oil and gas production (whether driven by political or market forces) is very very real, and with so more export capacity coming on line, prospects for additional downstream capital expenditures seem limited compared to what we’ve seen in recent years.
    Another factor which isn’t likely accounted for very well is simply that very big cities can begin to lose their momentum beyond certain population thresholds. Houston is already big enough to have all the essential big-city amenities, so having more people will pile onto problems of traffic and housing affordability without as much to be gained from getting larger. It is possible that Houston’s economic specialization and its ample stock of developable land will help it power well beyond those limits, but…as I mentioned, having that kind of specialization is a double-edged sword.
    Rather than coming down as a bull or a bear on Houston over this time horizon, I’d rather just say that if you own a lot of real or fixed assets in Houston and your employment is tied to Houston’s oil & gas sector (and no, don’t lie to yourself and try to say that you’re an architect or an educator and therefore not of it), that you need to keep substantial cash savings or a diversified portfolio of investments. Just in case. Houston is riskier than most cities. It is much riskier than Dallas or Austin or San Antonio. There’s also a fair bit of upside. Be careful.

  • Chuck Hermes, sounds like Christian read that statement perfectly correct: if conservative estimates of sea level and temp rise only by the smallest (aka conservative) amounts then the Houston “metro” area (Galveston Bay cities, etc) will have billions of dollars of land and building assets unusable. Non-conservative estimates would be even worse with more land underwater and high temps. He surely accepts your apology.

    It’s not that hard to believe; after all its been proved that all of Houston (yes even the Heights) used be under the ocean many thousands of years ago.

    J, cities like Miami are already (partly) under water on a regular basis. Houston’s great location and assets mean nothing to nature. And given people don’t vote in politicians who would spend a measly few billion for an Ike Dike or similar, I have no confidence they will pull a Norway and prevent that flooding before its too late.

    And aside from Christian’s climate concerns, without a lot more mass transit (not buses), no way our streets and freeways can handle that many people. Heck, traffic is noticeable worse in Heights, Galleria, Midtown, etc with all the high-density apartments and townhomes and highrise condos. At some point people stop wanting to deal with it and employers move to San Antonio or Waco or Midland (where all the growth in oul kobs is anyway in Texas).

  • @Chuck: I meant projections from real climatologists, not bought-and-paid-for propaganda artists.
    I’m not saying large portions of Houston are going to be underwater all the time–that would be silly. But we’ve already seen a rise in the frequency and devastation caused by large flooding events like the tax day floods and Harvey. And we’ve seen how just being outside the 500-year floodplain is no longer a guarantee of anything.
    How many Harvey-type events do you think the area can survive before it starts affecting growth? That may have already happened, by the way: Recent population growth has not met projections, and it has the city and county worried.

  • Another possible future: climate change becomes bad enough that people stop letting those who profit from climate change dictate policy. Houston suffers economic hardship as money moves out of traditional petro industries and population growth predictions are all wrong.

  • 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880. Average global temperature change.

  • Ignoring both the naysayers and unrealistic optimist, US shale production will probably peak in about 10-15 years. In about the same time period, we could see very significant growth in renewables as regulation/cap trade/carbon tax and global competition will make renewables cost competitive if not dominant. So, even beyond the question of whether we will have to spend a billions to build a giant seawall along Galveston Bay, there is a real question of whether the oil and gas industry is headed for a plateau and will be in serious decline by 2040. If the O&G industry uses their tremendous market capitalization and cash to move into renewables, Houston will be in a great position. But if they go the way of the big 3 automakers and push on the accelerator as the brick wall approaches, the 10 mil projection is beyond rosy.

  • Of all the misinformation tossed out here about climate change, Mike’s comments, here and a few days ago, stand out as particularly bad. From 1880, when continuous records were first kept, to around 1980, global temperature fluctuated, sometimes rising and sometimes falling. But only since the 1980s, have global temperatures been rising consistently, so that the rate of change implied by Mike is much underestimated compared to the reality. This information can be found at the NOAA or here:
    More than that, based on 0.8C since 1880, Mike extrapolated out to 2040, assuming a constant rate of warming since 1880 and therefore another 0.2C of change. Again, this is incorrect and misleading.

  • This fear of exogenous factors is some head-in-the-sand nonsense. A gradually accelerating decline in margins coupled with a general fear of illiquidity among decisionmakers should do the trick quite nicely. (Ten million!??!)
    Energy aside, there’s a requisite cultural shift and an economic diversification left out of Houston’s equation when it comes to forward projections, probably because neither can easily be quantified. And neither would seem likely to happen…