The Texas electricity grid breakdown, and the confluence of disastrous consequences, is a window into a climate-change future.
Millions of Texans are still freezing, and are having to cope with the total failure of the state’s electricity infrastructure amid a severe winter storm. Texans are struggling to acquire drinking water, the snowstorm freezing water pipes and rendering them inoperable. Water supplies remain contaminated as water plants cannot function.
The medical system in Texas has been thrown into chaos due to the snowstorm and subsequent electricity breakdowns. Hospitals are running out of essential equipment, and no power means patient care is deteriorating. Hypothermia is a very real danger for many vulnerable patients, and several state hospitals are on the brink of total collapse. Houston hospitals are conserving precious water by collecting rain water to wash out the toilets and remove faeces by using trash bags.
Energy experts were warning, years ago, that such an environmentally-driven disaster impacting the electricity grid was waiting to happen. This cascading catastrophe, and the lack of preparation for weather-based scenarios, stems from the fanatical opposition to renewables as an energy source, the exclusive promotion of fossil fuels as a basis for corporate profit, and a stubborn refusal to accept the scientific consensus of human-induced climate change.
Justin Worland, writing in Time magazine, states that the current social disaster in Texas was no surprise. In fact, experts had been warning that such a catastrophe was on the cards:
Ten years ago, in 2011, energy regulators warned the state’s electric-grid operators that they were ill-prepared for an unprecedented winter storm. And for decades before that, climate scientists had cautioned that a warming planet would cause climate chaos, raising the average global temperature while driving unusual weather events like this one. For Texas, it was always just a matter of time.
This catastrophe comes on top of the ever-present pandemic, and the Covid-19 vaccine rollout remains disrupted due to the severe weather conditions and blackouts. Minority communities in Texas are suffering especially hard, given the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the lack of affordable health care for the poor, and now the collapse of the electricity grid.
Texas disconnected its power grid from the US, because of an obsessive ideological fixation on ‘intrusive government authority.’ Combine that with continued talk among Republican lawmakers about the secession of Texas from the Union, and you may see the contributing factors in this current disaster. The unfettered ‘free market’ and removal of regulations helped to create a system vulnerable to breakdowns.
Talk of secession has all but dissipated in the aftermath of the critical infrastructure failures in Texas. Outspoken Republican Senator Ted Cruz fled to the comfort of Cancun, thus showing his contempt for the millions of his fellow Texans suffering privations. His conduct, reminiscent of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Hawaiian holiday while Australia experienced its worst bushfires, demonstrates that the wealthy will flee from difficult circumstances for shelter and warmth.
Reality, in this case the effects of climate change, intrude and upend people’s xenophobic preoccupations. Spending the last four years, at least, demonising Hispanic migrants and refugees, and building high-tech border walls, has done nothing to improve the lives and living standards of ordinary Texans.
The Republican Party has consistently dominated Texan politics for decades. Their climate change denial, and fanatical obsession with ‘free market’ capitalism, has held sway in Texas for years. Today, Texas stands as a failed state. The ideology of maximising corporate profit, and ridiculing every move at government regulation as ‘socialism’, has brought Texas to its current catastrophic condition. An oil-and-gas rich state such as Texas has problems providing electricity to its own people.
Coddling the rich with favourable economic policies has been the core guiding fiction of the Republican Party, though this is not to let the Democrats off the hook. Mocking government regulations and health/environmental safety standards with the shocker-word ‘socialism’ is a tactic not confined to the Republican Party. However, it is the doctrine of capitalist neoliberalism, implemented in Texas in unimpeded form, that has resulted in the inability of the state to care for its citizens.
One of the adverse impacts of the winter storm was is the severe disruption of the state’s fruit and vegetable crop production. Stores are running out of food, and it is easy to find images of long queues of Texans, lining up to buy bread, milk, groceries and common products. Pictures of empty shelves and long queues from Texas are powerful and heart-rending. They remind me of the shabby point-scoring by Eastern European emigre communities, circulating pictures of food queues in their home nations to allegedly prove the failure of socialism.
There is no reason why the United States cannot solve its own economic and social problems. At the same time that we were reading about the disaster afflicting Texas, we also received news that NASA’s Perseverance rover, deployed for a mission to Mars, successfully touched down on that planet. The technical and scientific expertise that went into that mission is extraordinary.
There is no question that the Americans have the scientific expertise and ingenuity to send space missions. Yet the challenges of climate change, the pandemic, and the collapse of the Texan electricity grid, remain unsolved. While not counterposing space exploration with other scientific ventures, it is time to re-examine priorities – pictures from Mars are awe-inspiring, but do not help the Texans freezing to death, sheltering in gymnasiums, and scrambling to protect themselves with meagre resources.
The drive for corporate profits and the deregulation of the Texan electricity market surely require reexamination after this terrible disaster.