This past week we’ve watched as large parts of the nation ground to a halt because of temperatures forty degrees below average and snow and ice not seen in decades.
Texas has been particularly hard hit. The temperature went down to single digits. The storm and surge in electricity use by people desperate for warmth have led to chaos and immense human suffering. Early on perhaps four million people were without power. Three days later, at least 2.5 million people were still without power; oil drilling equipment and pipelines froze, halting new production and transport of energy; 7 million people were told to boil water; pipes were bursting as water freezes; temperatures in homes were plummeting and people with fireplaces were foraging for firewood; homeless people have been freezing to death or sheltering desperately in non-socially distanced structures; and thousands have risked their health and lives by using gas stoves and barbecue grills to provide heat – leading to at least 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the Houston area alone! And this litany doesn’t even address the transportation and traffic situation, which has also been a nightmare!
But it’s not just Texas and its right-wing politicians who are having problems. States with Democratic governors like Oregon and California have also shown they are unable to keep the power on for hundreds of thousands. This winter crisis, while weather induced, is exposing the brittle and unprepared U.S. power grid for what it is – a for-profit circus of competing utility companies and energy providers poorly regulated by outdated plans, all completely unprepared for the climate crisis! And, because profits and expenditures are the top concerns for governments and utility companies, investment in new technologies and preparation for climate change has lagged far behind.
The disaster playing out in Texas and much of the nation didn’t have to be. But within a capitalist economy, it was unavoidable! And since weather patterns will continue to be disrupted in unpredictable ways by climate change (which is, of course, also caused by capitalism), we will see more and more crises just like the disaster in Texas.