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We Need Answers
As a Texan who’s been living without power for days, I am outraged.
As a human being who understands that disasters like this exacerbate the great inequalities in our society, I am worried.
And as a reporter who has covered my share of big news stories (of which this is certainly one), I have a helluva lot of questions to which I want answers.
We cannot just treat what is happening in Texas as a natural disaster that swells with the news cycle and then disappears from view. The combination of our climate crisis, the decision-making of our elected officials, and the overall state of our society have contributed to wreak havoc on people’s lives. These potent forces are not unique to this storm, or to the Lone Star State. If we can learn lessons from what happened and make better decisions going forward, we can turn this tragedy into the beginnings of hope. But that has to start with a reckoning of failure, and the who, what, when, where, and how that made it happen.
The path to the truth must be clear-eyed and focused. I fear those who are responsible for this mess are going to spill gallons of bullshine and not a teaspoon of candor. We, as citizens, voters, and especially those in the press, cannot be distracted until we have answers and the culpable are held responsible.
With this in mind, these are some of the questions to ask at this point:
Let’s start with why did the power fail? It’s a straightforward query that undoubtedly has more tendrils than a banyan tree. We need to know about the history of the power grid, the corporate and political interests who shaped it, the dealmaking, and the warning signs that were missed. Secondary questions:
Why was the grid not weatherized?
Why was it not prepared for a spike in demand?
Why was ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) carved out from the national grids?
What role did climate denialism play in the decision making?
Who made the decision to keep which places lit?
Who got hit the hardest? This is one of those events that struck broadly across social, political, economic, and racial strata. But as always, those who were struggling the most, with food and housing insecurity, medical conditions, and lack of community support are going to end up suffering disproportionately. This needs to be documented, accounted for, and remedied as best as it can.
Why did back-up and contingency plans fail? Once the power went out, all sorts of impacts were inevitable: freezing conditions, bursting water pipes, a run on food and provisions. This was a storm that we knew was coming. Why was there so little planning for its aftermath?
What was the decision-making process once the crisis hit? What did elected officials, those in charge of the energy grid, and others in a position of “leadership,” do to mitigate the damage once the system went down?
Why all the confusion? The communication system to let the populace know what was going on was as effective as whispering during a hurricane. We need accountability on this front as well.
How do we ensure this never happens again? There’s going to be a major effort to diminish and downplay what happened by those responsible —the equivalent of band aids when we need open-heart surgery. A true post-mortem is going to get technical, complicated, and wide-ranging. We can’t be deterred. We need to learn more than we ever thought we would about our power grids in a changing world.
What would resilience look like? It is obvious to have power generation in cold climates (Minnesota, Norway, are you in the house?). Obviously Texas didn’t feel this type of cold could hit here. We know how bad an assumption that was. But how do we recognize new realities and make power more reliable, while also recognizing the environmental and economic costs?
A note of thanks to my Steady team of Elliot Kirschner and Alex Van Amson who have been my conduits to the internet and all of you as I try to conserve cell phone battery life and warmth as we enter day 4 without power. These are extraordinary circumstances, but the news doesn’t wait. Also a big thanks to my wife Jean who is my companion here, and as always a rock.
I’ve been trying to follow the news as best I can, and if you scroll down I have tried to share some great reporting that my team and I have collected. This is undoubtedly but a small sample of the intrepid and insightful journalistic work being done on this story. Please share other reports in the comments section of this newsletter.
Thank you. Steady.
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