John L. Hall is the President and CEO of HARC, a non-profit research hub rooted in sustainability. Founded in 1982, HARC’s mission is to provide independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues to people seeking scientific answers and solutions for a sustainable future. John is a distinguished thought leader and practitioner focusing on the impacts and intersections of energy efficiency and clean energy, air quality, water management, environmental justice, communities, and climate.
1. What are the biggest challenges facing our region?
Across Texas and along the Gulf Coast, climate change will increasingly impact communities; temperatures will warm, rainstorms intensify, and flooding will increase. Over the last ten years, NOAA data [https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/] show that 47 severe storms impacted the region, including Hurricane Harvey and four other 500-year flooding events over the previous six years. Intense hurricanes and severe flooding are not the only impacts extreme weather events; six drought events, five tropical cyclones, five floods, three wildfires, and one unprecedented winter storm have also impacted Texas.
The economic and human health outcomes of these events are catastrophic. For example, in Harris County, losses associated with Hurricane Harvey are estimated to be $73.5 billion. Over the last twenty years and across the U.S., NOAA calculates the total costs of these events to exceed $1.975 trillion.
As the climate changes, we will see rising temperatures, more intense, frequent storms, more extended periods of drought, fewer temperate days, and increased coastal sea-level rise.
Texas is one of the fastest-growing states in the country. This population increase, along with the growing intensity of extreme weather events, is causing a strain on our water and energy infrastructure and will require a greater focus by government agencies, businesses, and individuals to develop solutions. To remain the nation’s leader in energy, Texas must lean into its abundant renewable energy resources and lead the development and manufacturing of technologies that reduce and eliminate the climate and health pollution emitted by fossil fuels in commerce, industry, and vehicles.
Our region will require investments in programs, products, and technologies that reduce demand, increase resilience, enhance air quality, improve equity, and create jobs.
Pollution and climate change disproportionally impact our most vulnerable communities. While we look to a more sustainable and equitable transition focused on new opportunities and co-benefits, the public and private sectors must implement thoughtful strategies to extend these technologies and related jobs to low-income and communities of color. In addition, communities will need tools and resources to adapt to and prepare for the accelerating change in our climate. Finally, as these vulnerable communities are more susceptible to these environmental and social burdens, program leaders and policymakers need science-based research to effect change for a more sustainable, cooperative, and equitable future.
2. What role do you believe HARC can play in helping to solve these challenges?
Every project at HARC focuses on unbiased research and analysis. As an organization, we can partner with local governments and community organizations to address the significant environmental problems our community faces and provide solutions to mitigate these problems. We are eager to build these partnerships and encourage interested organizations and communities to engage with us to work toward intelligent, science-informed solutions.
Our expertise positions us to understand and develop solutions to climate, air quality, clean energy, and water quality and supply, with environmental justice and climate equity as priorities in all focus areas. We understand the importance of resilient communities. Building transformational public policies and implementing cost-effective and efficient practices in decarbonizing our economy can provide significant economic, environmental, and social benefits for all.
Our research and science expertise enables us to collectively advance and deploy practical approaches to address Texas’s climate, resilient, equity, and environmental justice challenges.
As a strategic partner, HARC leverages various collaboration models to provide technical, analytical, and capacity-building support to partners to develop and implement solutions at different scales. Examples of this include:
Lastly, the transformative federal policies under development, including the pending infrastructure plan, will provide substantial opportunities to create and rebuild more resilient and equitable communities. The team of researchers at HARC combines decades of policy, research, business expertise, and the knowledge base to help shape effective solutions to these challenging issues.
3. HARC is a globally recognized, award-winning research organization that focuses on sustainability. Under your leadership, what are the top goals for HARC?
While prioritizing the Houston metro area, we will expand our geographical focus to other regions and emphasize forming partnerships with governmental entities and businesses committed to addressing those issues our research and program of work can address.
My top goals for the organization include:
I am eager to work with HARC’s team [www.harcresearch.org/people] to strengthen our research programs, continue to expand our geographical reach across Texas, grow partnerships, and develop and implement solutions that effectively address the substantial challenges in each of these areas in measurable and meaningful ways. In addition to our overarching focus on climate, air quality, energy, water, and coastal issues, we are committed to advancing policies and programs that effectively address energy poverty, environmental justice, and climate inequities.
Our approach is collaborative, catalytic, and strategic, and our solutions are data-driven. HARC is often the behind-the-scenes organization that provides technical support to entities that deploy the public-facing programs and develop policy based on research and science-based assistance.
An example of this is our partnership with Houston to develop and implement its Climate Action Plan. [http://greenhoustontx.gov/climateactionplan/] We provided technical expertise, ran the models to build the most effective climate mitigation measures, and assisted in identifying stakeholders and developing engagement activities.
HARC provides research to improve the health and well-being of people, and we can support communities by providing the additional program management support that communities might need. We can work directly with any non-profit organization, school district, local or state government organization through interlocal agreements. For their sustainability and climate-focused priorities, we can assist them by identifying funding opportunities, designing the program, supporting the application process, implementation, compliance, and reporting.
Climate change is already altering how, and for some, where we live, work, and play. As organizations focus on ensuring the decarbonization of our economy and climate strategy solutions that are equitable, resilient, and operational, HARC can help you plan a sustainable path forward no matter where you are.
4. The HARC team has guided the implementation and research behind many regional projects. What does HARC’s program of work do to impact change?
Our programmatic and research activities support policies and technologies that promote sustainability based on scientific principles. We provide evidence-based, scientific, non-partisan answers, tools, and resources to those who seek to understand the impacts of a changing environment better.
An example of this is the Resilience Science Information Network (RESIN) portal [https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/e9430d121b4b4c07a6589f2bb522e582/page/page_0/?views=view_32]. RESIN [https://harcresearch.org/research/resilience-science-information-network-resin/] is a publicly available platform that brings together climate scenarios and environmental and socio-economic data sets to identify cross-connections and develop value-added data for communities engaged in resilience and adaptation planning efforts. In addition, the platform presents information in user-friendly formats allowing community leaders to create coherent, effective resilience plans. Currently, the tool describes future climate impacts to the Greater Houston-Galveston Region; we are working to build it out for other parts of the state.
Another example is Pythias Analytics [https://www.pythiasanalytics.com/]; a start-up spun out of HARC that delivers innovative solutions that enable the energy sector to anticipate, prepare, and adapt to future climate impacts. In addition, this powerful risk assessment tool may expand to assess climate risks in other economic sectors.
In addition, we also help to educate and inform a wide variety of audiences through our outreach initiatives. For example, we are incredibly fortunate to work in an energy-efficient building, a Living Lab [https://harcresearch.org/about/building/], which demonstrates how buildings may be energy-efficient and operate cost-effectively with no emission impacts.
5. HARC celebrates its 40th anniversary next year. What do you see as essential milestones in the course of its history? If we could move forward in time, how will people remember HARC in the next forty years?
There are many achievements throughout HARC’s history, and it would be challenging to highlight one specific example. Our mission has been and will continue to be providing research to help create a more sustainable future [https://harcresearch.org/research/]. Some of the most important projects have focused on reducing pollution in the industrial and transportation sectors. More recently, HARC has assumed the responsibility of helping partners to address various challenges associated with climate change, including resilience and climate adaptation strategies. These are ongoing challenges, and research regarding clean, sustainable energy, air, and water equitable for humans, scalable for communities, and accessible for all will continue to be a top priority.
I was honored to serve as the Texas Environmental Research Consortium (TERC) executive director at HARC 15 years ago. Although TERC’s original mission was related to air quality in the Houston-Galveston area, the research focus broadened to include the Dallas-Fort Worth area and much of eastern Texas due to emission transport and related impacts. Activities also extended to air quality issues besides ozone, specifically hazardous air pollutants and fine particulate matter. The findings and recommendations helped local, state, and federal policymakers develop the most effective clean air plans in Texas.
HARC also partners with many organizations. Recently, our work with the Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute (TEPRI), High Noon Advisors, and Moonlight Interests launched Powered for Good [https://www.poweredforgood.org/]. This effort seeks to explore, develop, and accelerate accessible clean energy initiatives for low-income and communities of color in the state.
HARC also partnered with the Community in Power and Development Association Inc (CIDA Inc), a non-profit community organization focused on environmental justice in Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange, which comprise the Golden Triangle. The City of Port Arthur is the initial focus of this initiative. HARC is committed to working with CIDA to develop and implement a multi-year Environmental Justice Initiative to address environmental and economic injustices in this energy-rich region of the state. Community capacity building and planning and replicable and scalable approaches are critical to this work.
In the next 40 years, people will remember HARC as a trusted resource, an unbiased arbiter of science. We want to continue to offer solutions to the most pressing issues in our region and state. Whether the year is 2022 or 2062, we will continue to further the vision of our founder and seek to find solutions to create a sustainable and inclusive future.