Contemplating The Lessons of the Great Texas Freeze
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Explaining that we are experiencing climate change seems like stating the obvious. Yet, there are people who still don’t believe in climate change, even though the earth is reacting to rising temperatures and melting polar caps in the ways in which science said that it would. The polar caps melt into the ocean. The ice changes the temperature of the water, which in turn changes things like the jet stream and pressure systems. The result is extreme weather events, like the one we just had in Texas. As far south as Texas is, six inches of winter snow and ice is not what anyone here would call normal.
Extreme weather events effects the ecosystems and infrastructure where we live. In Texas, the power grid, which is privately owned, chose not to winterize, even though there had been a severe winter event just a decade ago and insistence that the power plants should winterize. But, why do anything preventative when it could cut into your profits? So, when the temperatures plunged into single digits recently and stayed there for over a week, the power plants were not equipped to keep the heat on for its customers. Now there are a lot of board resigning’s, finger pointing, outrageous bills (I’m talking $16,000.00 for customers who lost and then regained power) and it’s a giant cluster- you-know-what. What hasn’t happened yet, is a solution that contains prevention and safety for the people of this state.
The big question is whether or not we have the courage to sacrifice to make the changes that will keep us safe. And whether or not we have the will to insist that our government, which is supposed to be by, for and of the people, will do the right thing.
The roads here in Austin were impassable during the freeze, because there are no snow plows in Texas, at least not that I could see. Trucks couldn’t get to grocery stores to replenish stock. People couldn’t get to the stores for food. Water pipes broke. Districts turned off water to conserve, since water was leaking all over the place anyway. Then came the boil order for water which was rendered contaminated. The irony being, what water were you supposed to boil if your water had been turned off? You saw people scraping snow into pots and trying to boil that – but you could only boil it if you had power or propane to do so, another technicality that was over looked with the boil order. Worst of all, some people literally froze to death in their homes because they had no heat.
I’ve lived a lot of winters in weeks and weeks of hard freeze, but the infrastructure in which I lived those winters was built for that kind of weather. Here in Texas, it’s not that we were caught off guard, it’s that the privately owned power grid decided to hedge its bets that nothing like this could ever happen. As the temperatures have warmed in the past few days and power has been restored, there are few people here who are not dealing with repairs due to the freeze, whether it's pipes, plants, or water damage. Some schools had to shut down because of damage from broken pipes.
These are just some of the far reaching tentacles of climate change that the country has been dealing with. And it's not just Texas. The fires that burned up and down the west coast last year, were for the most part, not wild fires, but climate fires. The ecosystems on the west coast do not naturally thrive in triple digit temperatures for weeks at a time. So when hot summer temperatures hovered in the hundreds, the area became a tinder box. In Colorado, the I-70 corridor that I used to drive from Denver to Aspen, is no longer miles and miles of green pine. Instead, those trees have been eaten by Pine Beetle, an insect that can only live and do damage if the area doesn’t drop below freezing for at least ten days at a time throughout the winter. Now, along that stretch of highway are miles and miles of decimated trees, that have turned mountain greenery into acres of brittle kindling.
We are in climate change. It’s not something that might happen up the road. Anyone who cannot see that the climate is changing, that weather in no longer predictable or following historic patterns; anyone who thinks it is all a hoax is either a political or corporate opportunist or ignorant.
And what will it take to clean up this mess? It mostly comes down to how we clean up pollution. What gases we put in the air, what chemicals we put in the water. We have the technology that we need to clean up our mess. A cleaner world would be better for everyone. It can only help humans and the planet stay healthier. Both the planet and its people are sick right now. And the politics of profit at any cost are the sickest of all. That's what will kill us if we don’t change our attitudes about taking care of our earth home and each other.