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What’s happening in Texas is climate nihilism

The disastrous blackouts are the government admitting they don't care if some people die

Dan Samorodnitsky

Senior Editor

A government that wanted to protect people could have prevented what’s happening right now in Texas.

Because of the winter storm freezing the state, basically every large source of energy in Texas is down or barely functioning, and rolling blackouts have been announced.

Predictably, the blackouts have not actually been rolling. Instead, they have been heavily weighted towards poorer areas and diverted away from richer, whiter areas. This could be seen coming from a mile away, since it happens every time a widespread disaster occurs. For its part, ERCOT, the nonprofit council that controls power in Texas, dodged questions about why blackouts were longer term and not rolling, simply saying that doing so prevented bigger problems, without elaborating

This is a pattern. Time and time again, resources are shifted away from marginalized communities and towards the rich and the white. While SARS-CoV-2 does not discriminate in who it infects, the lion’s share of injuries and deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic have come at the expense of Black people and the poor. Climate change is affecting the entire planet, except its causes come from the wealthy, who can just flee to a mansion on higher ground when the waves inevitably roll in. 

The results of the government’s action are an admission. I can’t read hearts or minds, but if a group of people wanted to protect, say, an energy sector’s profit margin above all else, they could skip over needed infrastructure upgrades to save money. When, inevitably, a disaster struck, they would probably protect the wealthy and powerful, those who had the ability to change things, affect state politics, or make a lot of noise. They might even fall back on nonsense excuses for their failures that simultaneously attempt to stoke culture wars, the kind that have gotten many Republicans elected in the first place.

80% of the power used in Texas comes from natural gas. After the last time a winter storm came through, in 2011, Texas had the opportunity to winterize its energy infrastructure. Power companies operating in a deregulated state market simply declined. Since Texas has its own power grid, separate from the rest of the country, there was no one to answer to. Inevitably, another storm came, froze Texas’s natural gas production, and that was that. Prominent Texas politicians then tried to blame statewide blackouts on the 10% of the state’s power that comes from green energy sources like wind, an explanation that fails both smell and sight tests.

Now, Texas grocery stores are empty, people have gone days without heat or running water in freezing temperatures, and at least 30 people have died, with that number expected to grow in the coming days.

Another winter storm like 2011 was bound to come — one of climate change’s many effects is the disruption of the polar vortex, a swirl of cold air that’s normally restricted to the Arctic. It may seem contradictory, but warming temperatures globally actually disrupt the polar vortex’s normal pattern, sending it south, meaning that Canada and the continental United States will feel it more often and more intensely than they otherwise would. There’s nothing freak about this anymore, and doing nothing in 2011 was a dereliction of governance amounting to a humans rights violation.

Electric grids that answer to no one, by the way, are also contributing to California’s reoccurring wildfire catastrophes. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) simply prioritizes profits over updating its infrastructure, providing service to people, and protecting against climate change.

So of course this disaster happened. The Texas government simply didn’t care to do anything about it. It won’t be the last time climate change and profit margins butt up against human rights. Texas will freeze again. Gulf states will continue getting slammed multiple times per year by once-in-a-century hurricanes. Those storms will start creeping up the Eastern seaboard more and more often. California is going to continue burning to the ground year after year. Big Ones are just Normal Ones now.

Maybe the most frustrating part is that the solutions for many of these things are huge endeavors, but none of them are complex or hard to understand. We’re past the point of climate denialism. We’re in climate nihilism now, where climate change is so big, so obvious, so glaringly killing people today, right now, that government policy in places like Texas is a denial of the principles people in the 21st century need to live well into the 22nd.

Every government action is an admission. That every time the white and the wealthy are shielded from the worst of every climate change-induced catastrophe is an admission. Inaction is an admission from the government of Texas and the US government at large: poor, Black, and marginalized people are not worth protecting. The final admission, the thought that governs: if they die, so what?