Creating Environmental Markets

The Laredo Resilience Project

There is a way out of the climate box we have created, though resistance to the necessary ecological transformation remains intense.  This semester, Creating Environmental Markets will examine alternative means of achieving environmental restoration and climate adaptation through economic incentives and jobs using Laredo, Texas, as our case study.  Laredo is the largest inland port along the US/Mexico border and the nation's third-busiest port among more than 450 airports, seaports, and border crossings, with $299.4 billion in total trade with the world in 2022.  It is a mid-sized city of approximately 300,000 located on the Rio Grande River and hosts tens of thousands of trucks daily hauling the robust commerce between the U.S. and Mexico

A south Texas community, Laredo also faces the consequences of a heating climate, including extended drought, increasingly hot and occasionally catastrophic temperatures, source water insecurity, heat island impacts, rare but increasing flood events, and significant issues around environmental justice.  A heating planet is also forcing people to migrate. Laredo receives thousands of migrants a day seeking asylum into the US. A 2021 study by the Texas Water Development Board and Texas A&M University concluded the city will face severe water shortages by 2040.  In 2022, the two reservoirs on which Laredo and surrounding smaller communities depend, the Falcon Reservoir in Zapata County and the Amistad Reservoir in Webb County, were at 9% and 19% of capacity due to drought.  Add that politics in Texas, particularly for environmental projects and justice as well as for a community whose population is 95% Hispanic with 45% below the poverty line, is difficult.  

As a project for the spring semester 2024 Creating Environmental Markets class, Laredo, Texas, presents both significant environmental challenges and opportunities to explore innovative market-driven approaches that synthesized through design strategies will attempt to envision a more resilient future in Laredo.  Working directly with the Rio Grande International Study Center (RGISC), the regional environmental advocate, we will investigate the historical context of Laredo, particularly focusing on its environmental past, its current environmental challenges, and the anticipated consequences of climate change.  We will investigate how arroyos, wetlands, grasslands, surface water, and ground water once worked, how the city grew, why and where its commercial and industrial centers grew, the history of the Rio Grande, sources of water supply, ground water stores, and the consequent environmental context of the city and the region.

From this base and using the tools of environmental restoration and sustainability provided in class, we will construct a water resilient plan for Laredo in a Project Report that will enhance water security while restoring natural systems and habitat, generate income as an aspect of restoration, reduce heat island effect, increase flood management and control options, and provide new job opportunities.

Students will travel to Laredo and will investigate issues in teams. Together, using your skills, we will produce a case study for the City and RGISC, recommending a prioritized path forward for the City. The cost will be $200 (term-billed) plus meals and incidentals. Travel will take place February 18-23.

This course has a travel component. Please see the GSD Travel and Safety Guidelines website for relevant policies.