In February, an unprecedented winter storm caused by the Arctic polar cortex raged through the Southeast. With it came unprecedented power grid failure that devastated states, in particular Texas. Parts of the Lone Star State went without power for days, causing food and water shortages, not to mention the unbearable cold that shook the nation to its core.
About 90% of Texas is covered by independent power grids run by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation. According to USA Today, this was done to avoid federal regulations as the Federal Power Act grants permission to the Federal Power Commission to oversee interstate electricity sales. The intention was ambitious, but when more than 3 million Texans lost power due to the storm, its effectiveness is called into question.
The power outage was caused by mass utility failure and the overflowing demand for power. According to Associated Press, the abnormal temperatures froze natural gas supply lines and wind turbines since they were not winter-proofed. To prevent a total collapse, blackouts were automatically put into effect, leaving homes and businesses without power until the grid recovers. Unlike Texas Governor Abbott and conservative politicians have claimed, charts by The New York Times show that natural gas failure took the biggest hit, not renewable energy.
The ultimate cause of this devastating crisis is climate change, the perpetrator of extreme weather conditions. This is not news; it became a national issue in 1988 when Dr. James Hansen, then director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, testified in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Calls for change increased in recent years; however, political and corporate motivations have blocked critical environmental reforms and preventative actions, as seen in Texas.
In 2011, energy regulators warned that the state is not prepared to face winter storms such as the one this year. However, in that same year, then-Texas-Governor Perry claimed “a substantial number of scientists...have manipulated data” and denied humans' role in climate change. According to the Georgetown Climate Center, Texas has not developed a statewide adaptation plan. Perry’s position on the climate has since shifted, but not before he was appointed to be the Secretary of Energy by former President Trump.
Texas politicians such as Senator Ted Cruz are criticized for being hypocritical when old tweets resurfaced. During California’s worst month of wildfires, Cruz attacked the state for being “unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.” A study by the Yale Project in 2013, the year Cruz was elected, explained a possible reason behind his climate-denying: only 44% of Texans believed that humans are the root cause of climate change.
Whether or not political motives are behind the current inaction on climate change, it is hard to deny that its effects are taking a toll on people across the country and the world today. The power to create change lies in the government’s hands, and so does the earth’s lifeline.