Texas Gov. Greg Abbott knows who and what to blame for the fact that a subfreezing cold snap and winter storm has left millions of people in his state without access to heat, water and electricity for days. It’s not him. It’s not the climate change-denying Republican Party. Instead, it’s the Green New Deal.
He’s wrong, of course: The Texas climate catastrophe makes the case for a Green New Deal.
Abbott, faced with an ongoing human catastrophe, decided the best use of his time was to appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Tuesday night. He ducked any responsibility for the crisis, instead pinning the blame on the state’s renewable solar energy, which froze up in the cold weather. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” the Republican claimed. “Fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas.”
Abbott isn’t the only one making that claim. The “wind turbines did it” is becoming the Republican rallying cry and talking point: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry says it; Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., believes it; controversial freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., is parroting it, too. But this jeremiad of the environmental culture war is not just wildly inaccurate: If anything, the situation in Texas reveals the exact opposite to be true. It demonstrates exactly why we need massive government action on the climate and infrastructure — what a Green New Deal would provide.
What is happening in Texas is a confluence of bad weather — of the sort we can expect more of as the pace of climate change quickens — and a lack of investment in infrastructure, combined with the downside of a go-it-alone mentality.
Yes, many of the state’s wind turbines froze up, but that’s because of a failure to put in place the equipment to keep them going in cold weather. The state’s utilities did not make the investment — something Abbott failed to mention. In other places, these investments are made, which is why this isn’t a nonstop issue in colder climes. And at the same time, solar energy is only responsible for a small portion of the state’s energy needs. Oil and natural gas are responsible for providing a majority of the Texas’s energy, and, what do you know, those utilities froze up, too. In the view of many experts, Texas prioritizes low electricity prices over preventive maintenance and worst-case scenario planning.
Well, it happens, you must be thinking. It’s Texas: It’s almost always warm, and it practically never snows, so why spend the money on something unlikely to happen? But climate change means we will experience such severe weather events more frequently. Our planet’s increasing temperature means everyone will experience extremes of temperature. It’s why we’re seeing both record heat waves in the summer and more severe snowstorms in the winter. This is why the term “global warming” doesn’t fully convey the scope of the environmental catastrophe we are facing.
We’ve already become so used to these localized climate emergencies that we quickly forget them. The West Coast was on fire in the late summer and early fall. Remember that? It happened in 2017 and 2018, too. Since Abbott was first elected to the governorship in 2014, Houston has experienced three floods so severe that they would previously have been considered once-in-500-years events. No more.
Despite the increasing number of severe weather crises, the Republican Party and its politicians continue to deny the impact of climate change and claim that they are protecting jobs and local economies. Abbott recently promised aggressive legal challenges if President Joe Biden, as expected, attempts to further regulate the natural gas and oil industries. “Texas is not going to stand idly by and watch the Biden administration kill jobs,” he proclaimed. He continues to claim that the case for climate change is still not settled.
All this needs to be called out for the appalling ignorance and political expediency that it is. The consequences of climate denial are getting more severe. A Green New Deal is needed to combat extreme weather, as well as upgrade, modernize and improve our infrastructure so it works better and we ultimately become less reliant on fossil fuels.
What’s happening in Texas this week is exactly what we can expect to happen more often as the accelerating pace of climate change continues to collide with the United States’ deteriorating infrastructure and continuing Republican inaction, intransigence and excuse-making. It’s leaving us all out in the cold.
Helaine Olen is the author of “Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.”