You might have heard the expression: when hell freezes over. The irony lies in that hell is said to be a place of eternal flame, and therefore, will unlikely ever reach freezing point. I am not from Texas, but Southern California provides similar hot and sunny weather conditions. Texas is even hotter as they are closer to the equator than we are. So, for Texas to be quite literally, frozen over? When California was just in flames?
A “once in a lifetime” event.
Just how many more of these will we live through? Considering the rate we’re going and the lack of climate change initiatives taken around the world by governments and corporations- probably a lot. In itself, climate change and policies can be a whole other article, but it does not take rocket science to know that these events are abnormal and extremely concerning. From ice storms near the equator to a global pandemic that killed more than 100 million people, "once in a lifetime events" have become more terrifying than astonishing.
At first glance, some snow does not seem all too bad. Plenty of states have snow. However, Texans are lacking electricity, heat, and water. According to the Washington Post, the storm “ha[s] killed at least 47 people,” as of February 18th, some even as young as eleven. Hypothermia is not even the only cause. As Texans seek warmth, cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are rising; other deaths resulted from fatal physical accidents, by car or on foot. Lack of resources even affected the Hilton Garden Hotel in Killeen, which caught fire and was unable to be put out due to water conservation efforts.
Because the pandemic is causing a surge of unemployment, homelessness and evictions are also on the rise The Texas Homeless Network found that “there were 27,229 individuals experiencing homelessness identified through the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count” (2020). In this cold weather crisis, the homeless are arguably suffering the worst.
Was any of this preventable? Yes. After the 2011 outages, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation wrote a report stating that “[m]any of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011... It is reasonable to assume from this pattern that the level of winterization put in place by producers is not capable of withstanding unusually cold temperatures. While extreme cold weather events are obviously not as common in the Southwest, they do occur every few years. And when they do, the cost in terms of dollars and human hardship is considerable. The question of what to do about it is not an easy one to answer, as all preventative measures entail some cost. However, in many cases, the needed fixes would not be unduly expensive.” They then continue in this 357 page report to make recommendations on how to reduce the risks for the next storm. Furthermore, Texas operates on its own power grid, rather than the eastern and western shared power grids, to avoid the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) electric reliability regulations.
After the two major blackouts in 1989 and 2011, how much was actually done to prevent this one? Ed Hirs, lecturer of energy economics at the University of Houston, stated, “‘there were lots of reports and recommendations and lots of people waving their hands,’ but no substantial changes” (Politifact). Hirs made efforts to raise awareness about the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’s (ERCOT) model of distribution in his op-ed with Dr. Paul Macavoy from Yale University. Bills that were proposed to improve infrastructure failed to pass or are pending, such as Bill HB 1963, Bill HB 2571, and Bill HB 1044.
So what are legislators doing now? Texas Senator Ted Cruz was seen bringing his family to escape the cold into sunny Cancun, which is ironic because he crossed the border for refuge. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) raised four million dollars of direct relief and will be visiting Houston. In a FOX News Interview, Governor Abbott blames clean energy sources and articulates that “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal.” However, Abbott was disproven. According to senior director at ERCOT, Dan Woodfin, ‘“it appears that a lot of the generation that has gone offline today has been primarily due to issues on the natural gas system”’ (Texas Tribune).
Power is slowly coming back to Texas, but at a huge cost. Residents are left with absurd bills, as wholesale prices reached “$9,000 per megawatt hour — compared to the seasonal average of $50 per megawatt hour” (NBC News).
What can we do? For Texans, being more conscious of local politics is essential. For the rest of us, we have to continue to raise awareness and fight against climate change. Making jokes about Texas because they are a red state is insensitive and unempathetic. Senator Ted Cruz returned back to Texas after social media outrage over his leave. Thus, our voices and attention are necessary in ensuring legislators take proper action.
Again, just how many more of these “once in a lifetime” events will we be forced to live through? What will it take to actually incite proper responsibility and reform in this country? It appears that with global warming causing a rise in temperatures, hell has actually frozen over.
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