Can You Believe This Is Happening in America?
In the last six months I’ve heard one phrase more often than I had in my previous 66 years: “Can you believe this is happening in America?”
As in: “I spent the whole day hunting online for a drugstore to get a Covid vaccination. Can you believe this is happening in America?”
“Fellow Americans ransacked our Capitol and tried to overturn an election. Can you believe this is happening in America?”
“People in Texas are burning their furniture for heat, boiling water to drink and melting snow to flush their toilets. Can you believe this is happening in America?”
But, hey, all the news is not bad. We just sent a high-tech buggy named Perseverance loaded with cameras and scientific gear 292 million miles into space and landed it on the exact dot we were aiming for on Mars! Only in America!
What’s going on? Well, in the case of Texas and Mars, the basic answers are simple. Texas is the poster child for what happens when you turn everything into politics — including science, Mother Nature and energy — and try to maximize short-term profits over long-term resilience in an era of extreme weather. The Mars landing is the poster child for letting science guide us and inspire audacious goals and the long-term investments to achieve them.
The Mars mind-set used to be more our norm. The Texas mind-set has replaced it in way too many cases. Going forward, if we want more Mars landings and fewer Texas collapses — what’s happening to people there is truly heartbreaking — we need to take a cold, hard look at what produced each.
The essence of Texas thinking was expressed by Gov. Greg Abbott in the first big interview he gave to explain why the state’s electricity grid failed during a record freeze. He told Fox News’s Sean Hannity: “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. … Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. … It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”
在首次解释该州电网为何在创纪录的寒冷天气中出现故障的重要采访中，州长格雷格·阿伯特(Greg Abbott)表达了得州思想的精髓。他对福克斯新闻(Fox News)的肖恩·汉尼蒂(Sean Hannity)说：“这表明绿色新政(Green New Deal)对美国来说将是一个致命的政策。……我们的风和太阳能被关闭，它们合计占我们电网的10％以上，这迫使得克萨斯州陷入全州范围内缺电的局面。……这表明化石燃料是必要的。”
The combined dishonesty and boneheadedness of those few sentences was breathtaking. The truth? Texas radically deregulated its energy market in ways that encouraged every producer to generate the most energy at the least cost with the least resilience — and to ignore the long-term trend toward more extreme weather.
“After a heavy snowstorm in February 2011 caused statewide rolling blackouts and left millions of Texans in the dark,” The Times reported Sunday, “federal authorities warned the state that its power infrastructure had inadequate ‘winterization’ protection. But 10 years later, pipelines remained inadequately insulated” and the heaters and de-icing equipment “that might have kept instruments from freezing were never installed” — because they would have added costs.
As a result, it wasn’t just Texas wind turbines that froze — but also gas plants, oil rigs and coal piles, and even one of Texas’ nuclear reactors had to shut down because the frigid temperatures caused a disruption in a water pump to the reactor.
That was a result of Abbott’s Green Old Deal — prioritize the short-term profits of the oil, gas and coal industries, which provide him political campaign contributions; deny climate change; and dare Mother Nature to prove you wrong, which she did. And now Texas needs federal emergency funds. That is what we capitalists call “privatizing the gains and socializing the losses.” I don’t know what they call it in Texas.
But to disguise all that, Abbott trashed his state’s trendsetting wind and solar power — power it pulls from the sky free, with zero emissions, making rural Texans prosperous — in order to protect the burning of fossil fuels that enrich his donor base.
Abbott’s move was the latest iteration of a really unhealthy trend in America: We turn everything into politics — masks, vaccines, the weather, your racial identity and even energy electrons. Donald Trump last year referred to oil, gas and coal as “our kind of energy.” When energy electrons become politics, the end is near. You can’t think straight about anything.
“For a healthy politics to flourish it needs reference points outside itself — reference points of truth and a conception of the common good,” explained the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal. “When everything becomes political, that is the end of politics.”
“一个健康的政治要想蓬勃发展，就需要外部的参照点——真理的参照点和共同利益的概念。”希伯来大学(Hebrew University)宗教哲学家摩西·哈伯塔尔(Moshe Halbertal)解释说。“当一切都变成政治，那就是政治的终结。”
Making everything politics, added Halbertal, “totally distorts your ability to read reality.” And to do that with Mother Nature is particularly reckless, because she is the one major force in our lives “that is totally independent of our will.” And if you think you can spin her, Halbertal said, “the slap in the face that she will give you will be heard all across the world.”
You don’t have to listen too carefully to hear it. Although it is still too early to say for sure, the Texas freeze fits a recent pattern of increasingly destructive “global weirding.” I much prefer that term over “climate change” or “global warming.” Because what happens as average global temperatures rise, ice melts, jet streams shift and the climate changes is that the weather gets weird. The hots get hotter, the colds get colder, the wets get wetter, the dries get drier and the most violent storms get more frequent. Those once-in-100-years floods, draughts, heat waves or deep freezes start to happen every few years. That’s how we will experience climate change.
According to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: “The U.S. has sustained 285 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including C.P.I. adjustment to 2020). The total cost of these 285 events exceeds $1.875 trillion. … The years with 10 or more separate billion-dollar disaster events include 1998, 2008, 2011-2012, and 2015-2020.” This year, after this Texas disaster alone, could set a record — and we’re only in February.
根据美国国家海洋和大气管理局(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)最近的报告：“自1980年以来，美国已遭受285起总体损失/成本达到或超过10亿美元（已根据2020年CPI调整）的天气和气候灾害。这285起事件的总损失超过了1.875万亿美元。在1998年、2008年、2011–2012年和2015–2020年等年份，分别发生了10起或以上损失超过10亿美元的灾难事件。”今年，仅在得克萨斯州的这场灾难之后，就可能创下新纪录——而现在才到2月份。
If global weirding is our new normal, we need a whole new level of buffers, redundancies and supply inventories to create resilience for our power grids — and many more distributed forms of energy, like solar, that can enable households to survive when the grid goes down. Looking to maximize profits around fossil fuels in an age of global weirding is just begging to get hammered.
As Hal Harvey, C.E.O. of Energy Innovation, remarked to me: “Cavemen understood that you have to store things up to be secure. Birds know that. Squirrels know that. So, what are we doing? And what was Texas doing?”
正如能源创新公司(Energy Innovation)首席执行官哈尔·哈维(Hal Harvey)对我说的：“穴居人明白，必须储存东西才能保证安全。这件事鸟儿也知道，松鼠也知道。那么，我们是在做什么？得州又在做什么？”
Every leader needs to be asking those questions. Leadership always matters. But today, it matters more than ever at every level. Because in a slower age, if your city, state or country had a bad leader and got off track, the pain of getting back on track was tolerable. Now, when climate change, globalization and technology are all accelerating at once, small errors in navigation can have huge consequences. They can leave your community or country so far off track that the pain of getting back on track can be excruciating.
Just look at Texas and you’ll know what I mean. And just look up at Mars, and think of the mind-set that got us there, and you’ll know what needs to change.