By: Peter Miles Hamilton
Those of you who have been outside recently can attest that we are currently experiencing a massive cold front, bringing the coldest temperatures of winter in mid-February, astonishingly late in the season. In Indiana, we have seen large snowfalls in a short time, ice sheets covering every road, and other horrific weather patterns that are pretty regular here.
We, battered and weathered Hoosiers, have the experience and infrastructure to go about business as usual in these times, but the majority of the country very much does not. People living in the Southern states or on the West Coast are not used to seeing any cold and snow, much less a lot at once, so getting through this front will be tough. Tough, but largely survivable.
Unless, of course, you live in Texas.
Texas is currently experiencing a pile-up of severe problems, any one of which could have been catastrophic on its own. Any volume of snow and ice is a sizable problem for Texas, given that the local climates tend to be actual deserts and tropical regions. However, the amount of “cold” in this particular cold front is destroying a lot of the state’s infrastructure. Poorly-insulated water pipes are freezing and bursting, due to having not been properly winterized. Power plants are producing fractions of their expected winter output, with newspaper, The Texas Tribune, reporting that of the expected roughly 84 gigawatts of electricity, 45 gigawatts were offline.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), whose name has aged very poorly, implemented rolling blackouts on February 15th, leaving many without power and heat. Texans are quite literally freezing to death, and as this story is still developing at the time of writing, it is uncertain how many total fatalities there will be. Some electric companies have instructed customers to sever their contracts before receiving massive electric bills, which disproportionately harms minority and working-class neighborhoods.
How did this come about? The short answer is unfettered capitalism. The reason Texas’s infrastructure was so poorly equipped for the winter is that Texas has historically avoided federal regulation. Most of the United States uses an interstate electricity grid, managed by the Federal Power Commission. Texas does not, instead they have had the aforementioned ERCOT since 1970. ERCOT was a bit laxer on their rules, leaving them more vulnerable to this sort of danger. A few cities, like El Paso, do have federally-regulated grids, and they have not been experiencing as severe outages as the ERCOT-managed areas.
Some have explained the outages as a result of renewable energy, as several wind turbines have frozen in cold weather, though ERCOT representatives told The Texas Tribune that thermal energy sources, including coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy, are an overwhelming majority of Texas’s energy resources and were failing at twice the rate.
Natural gas specifically was singled out as a major failure, as it traveled through the non-winterized pipes and was completely cut out. The idea that green energy somehow froze Texas, and we should rely heavier on fossil fuels that caused the climate to change so drastically that Texas can freeze at all, is a clear and unambiguous falsehood. As a result, it is disheartening (though entirely unsurprising) that such a view was being promoted by individuals such as Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX2) and Senator Ted “ran away to Cancun and blamed his kid” Cruz (R-TX).
There are two main lessons to take from the situation in Texas. The first is that profit made by cutting corners on essential services (like electricity) is paid for by the blood of the least fortunate among us. The second lesson is that change will not come from above, as demonstrated by the state’s elected officials acting ineptly, both now and since 1970. These lessons are fairly heavy and disheartening, especially if you are learning them for the first time. But that does not mean things can not get better.
While President Biden might only “partially” approve aid to Texas, in Governor Greg Abbott’s words, there are good people doing work on the ground in Texas to help keep folks alive. Listed below are mutual aid funds worth donating to if you can spare the change. The list is taken from a Texas Tribune article titled “How to help and get help in Texas as the winter storm causes power outages,” which contains these and a frankly dizzying amount of other local groups.
The American Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation.html/
Feeding Texas: http://www.feedingtexas.org/covid19/
Mutual Aid Houston: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mutualaidhou
Austin Mutual Aid: https://www.gofundme.com/f/kick-the-cold-austin-mutal-aid
Feed the People Dallas: https://feedthepeopledallas.com/
Para Mi Gente: https://www.instagram.com/para.mi_gente/