Texas' population could nearly double by the year 2050.
Extreme weather events will bring more floods, more droughts, and more heat.
Our state’s resources can’t support those demands.

Making Texas resilient is our grand challenge.
The Challenge
Resource Scarcity
Texas' population could nearly double by the year 2050.
Extreme weather events will bring more floods, more droughts, and more heat.
Our state’s resources can’t support those demands.

Making Texas resilient is our grand challenge.

Texas Is Changing

We expect easy access to clean drinking water every day. Reliable electricity 24/7. Clean air, a stable economy, and a safe place to live. These are critical for healthy, thriving communities. Take any one of these away, and our wellbeing and livelihoods can deteriorate quickly.

But in Texas and elsewhere, the looming realities of rapid population growth and weather intensity mean that the things we rely on to live — water, energy, dependable infrastructure, and an ecosystem to support them — are under unprecedented risk.

Here’s why: Texas’ population today is nearly 28 million. By 2050, that number is predicted to double to 55 million, with most people clustered in already-dense urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Limited resources will be in even greater demand.

Add to that the environmental stress from prolonged droughts, record-breaking heat waves, and destructive floods, and what we have won’t be enough.

That’s our current trajectory, but we can still change course.

That’s why The University of Texas at Austin is proud to introduce Planet Texas 2050, the first in a series of university-wide grand challenges that will tackle some of the most critical problems of our time. Planet Texas 2050 is an eight-year sprint to find solutions that will make our communities more resilient and better prepared.

Just as important, what we discover will have applications that extend far beyond our region. We’ll share our findings, tools, and processes with researchers across the U.S. and the world who are facing similar challenges in the 21st century.

Space Space Space Space Space
Texas Drought
Timelapse of Texas from 2007-2011 during one of the region's worst droughts. Satellite imagery courtesy of NASA.
Texas Drought
Timelapse of Texas from 2007-2011 during one of the region's worst droughts. Satellite imagery courtesy of NASA.

While most things in our world have changed in the last 500 years, human beings — in the most fundamental ways — have not. We still need the same resources as our ancestors did to survive: access to drinkable water, clean air, reliable food and energy sources, and shelters that keep us safe from predators and the elements.

Of course, today we also depend on efficient and stable infrastructure to move goods and people; dependable emergency services; access to education and employment; and affordable and equitable healthcare. These systems help communities thrive, but without the essentials like water and energy, they fail. And our ability to sustain those critical resources at levels that can support massive population growth and climatic shifts is in jeopardy.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers are committed to developing programs and policy recommendations in the next eight years that will improve Texas’ adaptability and build its resilience. To do that, their work will focus on understanding the interconnectedness of four critical resource systems.

4 Key Pillars
Planning for Texas' Future
01
Water

How much water do we have, where is it, and how do we get it? Texas has made great strides when it comes to assessing questions of water availability, but we still don't have all the answers.

Research projects will consider several water challenges, from measuring water availability today to reconstructing the region's paleoclimate. Integrating new data will provide a better understanding of Texas' future.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers, together with the Texas Advanced Computing Center, will then use that data to build an integrated modeling platform that produces accurate long-term water resource projections. They'll share their findings with state agencies to help them make more informed decisions and to allocate resources with greater confidence.

02
Energy

We use energy — oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar, and nuclear power — to move people and commerce, to power lights, and to heat and cool homes. As populations grow, the mix of those energy sources will have to change to meet demand while staying affordable and minimizing environmental harm.

Weather extremes also pose threats. Floods inundate power plants and refineries, and droughts reduce the amount of water that's available for energy production and cooling.

Researchers will focus on gaining a comprehensive understanding of the state's energy sources and production capabilities, and they will build simulations that replicate the energy needs of entire cities throughout seasons and weather events. Their work will help engineers and architects design urban centers with a goal that they consume no more energy in 2050 than they do today.

03
Urbanization

City growth creates new jobs and tax revenue, but it can also lead to inadequate affordable housing, transportation problems, and pollution.

Texas’ urban centers will undergo a population explosion in the next 30 years. Unaddressed, increased urbanization will further exacerbate environmental and health problems, traffic congestion, and affordability — all of which will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers will examine energy and water use within single buildings and across metropolitan areas. Other projects will focus on the connections among transportation corridors, air quality, and health outcomes. The goal is to find common ways that all of Texas’ 25 major metropolitan areas can better manage water distribution, improve transportation planning, mitigate traffic-related air pollution, and improve the prevalence and affordability of energy-efficient construction.

04
Ecosystem Services

Growing human populations can lead to soil degradation, reduced biodiversity, limited water availability, and landscape instability. Extreme weather events amplify that stress.

Healthy ecosystems are critical. They give us crop pollination and shade, water filtration and natural carbon sequestration. But as Texas' population grows and droughts and floods become more severe, our natural land — and the resources and services those lands provide — will be threatened.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers will map Texas’ most vulnerable areas and study the effects population growth and weather extremes have on the ecosystem services we rely on. At the same time, an archeological team will examine how premodern societies responded to the same challenges we face today and how their decisions — good or bad — could influence our own.

01
Water

How much water do we have, where is it, and how do we get it? Texas has made great strides when it comes to assessing questions of water availability, but we still don't have all the answers.

Research projects will consider several water challenges, from measuring water availability today to reconstructing the region's paleoclimate. Integrating new data will provide a better understanding of Texas' future.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers, together with the Texas Advanced Computing Center, will then use that data to build an integrated modeling platform that produces accurate long-term water resource projections. They'll share their findings with state agencies to help them make more informed decisions and to allocate resources with greater confidence.

02
Energy

We use energy — oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar, and nuclear power — to move people and commerce, to power lights, and to heat and cool homes. As populations grow, the mix of those energy sources will have to change to meet demand while staying affordable and minimizing environmental harm.

Weather extremes also pose threats. Floods inundate power plants and refineries, and droughts reduce the amount of water that's available for energy production and cooling.

Researchers will focus on gaining a comprehensive understanding of the state's energy sources and production capabilities, and they will build simulations that replicate the energy needs of entire cities throughout seasons and weather events. Their work will help engineers and architects design urban centers with a goal that they consume no more energy in 2050 than they do today.

03
Urbanization

City growth creates new jobs and tax revenue, but it can also lead to inadequate affordable housing, transportation problems, and pollution.

Texas’ urban centers will undergo a population explosion in the next 30 years. Unaddressed, increased urbanization will further exacerbate environmental and health problems, traffic congestion, and affordability — all of which will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers will examine energy and water use within single buildings and across metropolitan areas. Other projects will focus on the connections among transportation corridors, air quality, and health outcomes. The goal is to find common ways that all of Texas’ 25 major metropolitan areas can better manage water distribution, improve transportation planning, mitigate traffic-related air pollution, and improve the prevalence and affordability of energy-efficient construction.

04
Ecosystem Services

Growing human populations can lead to soil degradation, reduced biodiversity, limited water availability, and landscape instability. Extreme weather events amplify that stress.

Healthy ecosystems are critical. They give us crop pollination and shade, water filtration and natural carbon sequestration. But as Texas' population grows and droughts and floods become more severe, our natural land — and the resources and services those lands provide — will be threatened.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers will map Texas’ most vulnerable areas and study the effects population growth and weather extremes have on the ecosystem services we rely on. At the same time, an archeological team will examine how premodern societies responded to the same challenges we face today and how their decisions — good or bad — could influence our own.

120
Researchers
14
Colleges, Schools, and Units
An Interdisciplinary Approach
Grand challenges bring researchers together from all disciplines to address urgent issues affecting our society. Our experts come from all corners of UT’s 40 acres, and beyond.
UT Austin Aerial

More Data, New Tools, Better Predictions

Improving our understanding of Texas’ vital resources means advancing our ability to predict how much we have available and plan for more efficient distribution. And that requires new ways of collecting and using data from around the state.

01
Data Management

We'll develop tools that incorporate data from different disciplines so we can ask better questions and get better answers — and we'll make it accessible to other researchers.

02
Current environment

We’ll analyze what’s going on in Texas today so we have a clear understanding of Texas’s climate, water availability, land use, ecology, and social equity.

03
Past Societies

We’ll reconstruct Texas’s past and examine historical evidence about paleoclimates, bioarcheology, and genetics to improve our ability to more accurately predict Texas’s future.

04
Data Modeling

We'll build an interactive simulator so users can see how changing variables — from Lubbock's population to floods along the San Jacinto River — change landscapes and resource availability.

05
Human health

We’ll identify how environmental fluctuations, severe weather events, and rapid population growth change disease vectors and human health hotspots within densely populated urban centers.

06
Arts & Humanities

We'll develop artworks, curricula, and social and cultural theories that help us understand how people comprehend and react to environmental dilemmas. We'll explore ways to compel ethical and mindful behavioral change.

07
Societal Decisions

We’ll work with local municipalities, nonprofits, corporations, and other community stakeholders to develop programs and policy suggestions that can produce positive outcomes for Texas.