Texas is synonymous with the oft-cited American ethos of “rugged individualism”.
As President Joe Biden on Saturday approved a major disaster declaration for Texas after the state was hit with an uncharacteristic deep freeze that overloaded power grids, causing widespread blackouts and water shortages, many are asking how such an infrastructure breakdown could have occurred.
While there are myriad causes, from Texas’ reliance on its own power grid to naked mismanagement, no matter how hard Gov. Greg Abbott tries to deflect blame to a non-existent Green New Deal and frozen wind turbines, there is no denying we are in the merciless jaws of a climate emergency.
Texas is a warning that the United States is woefully unprepared for what’s to come.
As we surpass more environmental tipping points, we can expect hotter heatwaves, more frequent and destructive winter storms, and fiercer tornadoes and hurricanes — all of which will wreak havoc on our national energy infrastructure.
As The Guardian recently reported:
“As both California and Texas have discovered in recent years, power plants, generators and electrical lines are not designed to withstand the catastrophes to come. And all the while, the fossil fuels that both states rely on to power these faulty systems are driving the climate crisis, and hastening infrastructural collapse.”
University of California, Berkeley electrical engineering professor, Sascha von Meier, put it bluntly:
“We’re already seeing the effects of climate change. There will be more of this and it will get worse.”
It isn’t like Texas — or the rest of the country — should be surprised either.
Ten years ago the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North America Electric Reliability Corporation warned Texas its energy facilities were unreliable in bitter cold after an Arctic front bringing sub-zero temperatures drooled down over the Southwest, causing similar destruction to what is occurring now, as it did in December 1989.
So what did the state do with that information?
Nothing of any consequence, because it threatened to cut into fossil fuel profits, a.k.a. the “free market”.
Right on cue, energy companies are raking in record profits from this catastrophe.
As Mark Sumner writes for The Daily Kos in his piece “Texas energy companies celebrate ‘hitting the jackpot’ in system that rewards failure with billions”:
“For electricity providers in Texas, this has been the best week ever. The same goes for natural gas companies. And coal companies. And drilling companies. And on down the line. The entire energy industry, including the owners of Texas wind farms, has seen a tremendous surge of profit. That surge was so great that on just two days this week, Monday and Tuesday, providers could easily have cleared more profit than they do in a full year of ordinary, full-scale production. Not providing adequate electricity to Texas is much more profitable than providing every Texan with the power they need. By design.”
“Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot.”
Utility prices are soaring now at a time when there isn’t even adequate infrastructure to provide the utilities.
Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday warned via Facebook:
“Unless we have the courage to take on the greed and lies of the fossil fuel industry, and transition to energy efficiency and sustainable energy, we will continue to experience the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. We must take action to make real progress in the fight against the climate crisis — we will not get there by thinking small and by counting pennies. We must act boldly to meet the moment this crisis demands.”
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, writing for The Guardian, said:
“Texas has long represented a wild west individualism that elevates personal freedom–this week, the freedom to freeze–above all else.
“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the flow of electric power, exempted affluent downtowns from outages, leaving thriving parts of Austin, Dallas and Houston brightly lit while pushing less affluent precincts into the dark and cold.
“Rich Texans take spikes in energy prices in their stride. If the electric grid goes down, private generators kick in. In a pinch–as last week–they check into hotels or leave town. On Wednesday night, as millions of his constituents remained without power and heat, Senator Ted Cruz flew to Cancún, Mexico for a family vacation. Their Houston home was ‘FREEZING’–as his wife put it.”
The world is warming faster than scientists predicted.
As a result, it’s throwing normal weather patterns into flux.
That’s why places where it’s hot are hotter than normal; places where it’s cold are even colder, in some places, than at any other time in recorded history.
2020 broke climate records as the one of the three hottest recorded years.
Some ask, “If that’s true, why is Texas freezing?”
According to a study released in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the shifting jet stream is responsible for dramatic temperature swings, causing glaciers in western North America to melt four times faster than in the last decade, creating what we now know as a “polar vortex“–a term familiar today but virtually unknown to most only a few years ago.
According to the National Weather Service it always exists near the poles, which are melting at an alarming rate.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains:
“The polar vortex suddenly weakened [in 2014], and a huge high-pressure system formed over Greenland. The high-pressure system blocked the escape of all that cold air in the jet stream, and allowed part of the polar vortex to break off and move southward.”
Despite the frigid temperatures, winters are actually getting warmer.
By 2050, cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore could lose a month or more of days with temperatures below freezing.
The report, State of the Climate in 2017, states carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere climbed to the highest levels “in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.”
According to a US National Climate Assessment, “impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country,” and “climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic wellbeing are rising.”
Nothing will escape climate change’s ravages.
International borders, economies, food and water supplies, health, education, transportation, energy sources, are all predicted to change with the climate as the planet warms faster than scientists predicted.
Another casualty we can add to the list: democracy.
In what is being labeled “climate apartheid,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights warns climate change’s impacts are likely to undermine democracy and the rule of law in addition to basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions.
The “climate apartheid” scenario will occur when “The wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”
According to Michael Mann, esteemed Pennsylvania State University professor and director of the Earth Science Systems Science Center, the IPCC’s assessment is actually conservative, underestimating the amount of warming that has already occurred.
We actually have less carbon left to burn if we wish to avoid the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold the IPCC report cites.
We have already passed too many tipping points to avoid some of the climate’s most devastating effects, and many scientists theorize the world has begun a sixth mass extinction.
We need to support aggressive climate-change policy, like the “Green New Deal” progressive Democrats are touting as part of their agenda to help right our current trajectory.
A good step is the United States recently rejoining the Paris Climate Accords from which Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew us early in his presidency.
We need to take the fossil-fuel industry head-on.
As long as there is a profit motive, there will never be sufficient action to curb carbon emissions.
Texas is just another reminder of our fate.