A week ago, Texas, my home state, was freezing.
The worst winter storm in the state in at least the last half-century left millions of people without power and killed dozens more. At one point, 12 million Texans were under a boil water notice as water reserves ran low, thanks to burst pipes, and were unsafe to drink. Austin, my hometown, has no snow plows. Most roads were impassable for days, and those low on food had few options to get more. Grocery stores were susceptible to the rolling blackouts in the state, leading to a massive waste of food. With icy roadways, neither delivery trucks nor people could get to grocery stores anyway.
A week ago, temperatures in much of the state were well below freezing. Millions of homes were without electricity for several days. And tens of millions of people could not access food or clean drinking water. After all, it’s hard to boil water with no electricity.
This is a natural disaster, and I’m anguished that many Texans are learning what a tangible example of climate change looks like. As the Earth warms, extreme weather events are becoming more common and more violent. There will be more and more severe costs, both monetary and human, in addition to Texas’ crisis. The state’s own oil and gas industry has contributed to these effects, and it will take significant effort to drag the state’s energy sector and economy into the 21st century. I know firsthand how hard this will be, as there remains a lot of disbelief in my state about the gravity of climate change. If there’s a silver lining to this failure of the state, hopefully, it can change some minds in this regard.
With more than 800 GW students from Texas, this is an emergency that impacts our community. Students do not have enough power to heat their homes, never mind accessing Internet for classes. Even if you do not have personal ties to the Lone Star State, you could understand the severity of the situation from both an academic and communal perspective.
My parents, after being without power for a day and a half, have been extraordinarily lucky to avoid any further blackouts so far. Many of my friends, on the other hand, have had far less luck. Some went three or four days with no power. Their houses were hardly above freezing anymore, with food shortages becoming an acute problem.
There are unforgivable failures that led to this crisis. It’s worth noting that the state government has, for at least a decade, considered ways to curb the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, there was a similar storm a decade ago that affected power production and led to blackouts. But the legislature blew off the opportunity to address oversight of the energy sector, and this year’s failures ensued.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Already, there is much misleading information regarding the cause of the power outages. But the most important thing to do right now is to save lives. Food and warmth are the two biggest concerns, with organizations providing emergency services and picking up all of the slack the state government has left. We’re talking about blankets, shelter and warm meals here. Hotels have taken to price gouging, opting to raise their costs rather than allow people to sleep under a warm roof for a reasonable fee. And, again, even getting to a hotel is no surety.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, with nearly every county in the state in at least “very high risk” conditions. With more people forced out of their homes to seek warmth, I fear that the virus will spread through the community.
What certainly won’t help to limit the spread of the disease is travel. Unfortunately, the junior Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, left the state – and the country – entirely, returning only after a public outcry. His explanation as to why he left a lot to be desired. I rage at the thought of a megalomaniac abandoning the state he represents in its worst crisis in decades. I rage at his ineptitude at bringing resources into our communities, at saving the lives of his constituents.
Some day, I hope my fellow Texans and I will confront the systemic issues that got us to this place. But for now, some soup and some blankets could determine whether someone survives this freeze.
Matthew Zachary, a senior majoring in Latin American Studies, is a columnist.