The memo was clear. Everyone should make a concerted effort to get into the office, no matter what the weather is like. That included winter storms. It was the mid-1990s, and the manager of the department where I worked in a bank in downtown Dallas insisted that business was paramount. This was seemingly light years before the Internet and telecommuting became dependable and functional. And every time ice and snow paralyzed the Dallas / Fort Worth metropolitan area I managed to make it into work. One week day I awoke to sleet falling outside of my apartment bedroom window; it was about 4 in the morning. I knew the weather would only worsen, so I shut off my alarm clock and readied for work. Travel time from my far North Dallas abode into downtown took almost 2 hours by navigating ice-laden streets. When I arrived just before 8 a.m., I literally had to turn on the lights in the department.
When I went to work for an engineering company shortly after the turn of the century, I ended up back in downtown Dallas, laboring on a contract for a government agency. I learned quickly the federal outfit had a phobia of snow and ice. They’d literally shut down when snow began descending upon the city. As contractors, my colleagues and I had to vacate the premises as well. One afternoon a monstrous rainstorm attacked, and – in a faux frenzy – I asked loudly if we had to leave the building. Rain, I declared, was just liquid snow. No such luck. We had to continue laboring over our strained keyboards. Everyone laughed.
Last weekend Winter Storm Uri catapulted into North America from the Pacific, generating ice storms that blanketed the state of Texas this week and inducing an even more paralyzing effect: our power grid shut down. Literally millions of people have lived without power (and in some cases, without water) since this past weekend. As of this moment, most homes have their power back. But a lack of water is now the problem. Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Texas related to the event has risen. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport led the world in the number of flight cancellations this week.
This has been a cataclysm of unimaginable proportions. I have experienced a slew of serious weather events and witnessed plenty of incidents of government incompetence, but I have NEVER seen anything like this!
What has occurred here in Texas this week is a prime example of the ineptness of conservative ideology and intense deregulation. Texas is an energy island; producing its own energy and relying upon no one else. The exception is far West Texas, where El Paso and its immediate surrounding communities experienced the same weather event, yet had no power outages. That strong sense of independence and individual reliability looks great in political campaigns, but doesn’t always turn out well in real life. Since the mid-1990s, Texas has had the habit of electing the biggest morons to public office. And they’ve come to dominate state government. Texas conservatives have done more to protect gun rights than basic human rights.
Now many of those same conservatives who always espouse the concept of personal responsibility are pointing their gnarly fingers at everyone and everything except themselves and their own disjointed attitudes. Even though President Joe Biden approved emergency relief for Texas, some Republicans are accusing him of indifference. They somehow missed Ted Cruz running off to Cancun, México this week because his kids wanted to go. Governor Greg Abbott has blamed green energy and the Green New Deal for the crisis. Green energy, however, only makes up about 10% of energy sources in Texas, and the Green New Deal hasn’t even gone into effect yet. But they’re liberal programs, so of course, Republicans consider them demonic and will trash their mere presence whenever they get the chance. Abbott also blames the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) for mishandling the event, but still hasn’t looked in the mirror.
This debacle points to the vulnerability of modern societies that have come to rely upon optic fibers and wires; a weakness that would both appall and humor our hardy ancestors. In March of 1888, a massive winter storm assaulted the Northeastern U.S., downing power lines and disabling even modest commutes in the region’s largest cities. People in rural areas, however, lived through the storm and its effects without much trouble. They were accustomed to such weather anyway and prepared for it.
Preparedness – the word of 2021.
Consider this irony. Earlier on Thursday, the 18th, NASA was able to land a vehicle on Mars. The endeavor cost millions of dollars and is an epic triumph in the name of science and technology. But we can’t get power and water to millions of human beings here in Texas – on planet Earth – for several days.
That’s not just sad; it’s unbelievably outrageous.