The vast and wild state of Texas, bastion of liberty, ruggedness, and illimitable space, has been assaulted by an unprecedented winter storm.
That, if no other, is the single word by which this lamentable story ought to be shaped, to which the critic and pundit alike should, from time to time, make an effort to return: unprecedented. It’s in acknowledgement of this fact, and with a constant repetition of this word, that we humble ourselves as we proceed into this story.
The snowy, icy, frigid weather by which Texas was pummeled is, if not completely unexampled through the course of its long history, quite extraordinary in modern times. Doubtless, on occasion, it gets to be rather chilly in that massive and diverse state, but never have the wintry conditions converged in such a way as to produce such widespread devastation and lingering trouble.
Every one of Texas’ two-hundred and fifty-four counties was placed under a “state of emergency”, a strikingly-broad declaration on which Governor Greg Abbott dutifully signed off. This, of course, proved no great protection from the crisis by which the state was soon to be overwhelmed. The multifarious sources of energy on which Texas is reliant (be it solar, wind, nuclear, coal, or natural gas) failed the citizens in their time of peril and heightened need.
The wind turbines froze, and the solar panels thirsted for the sun. Typically responsive to the growing demands of this large population’s needs, both were inoperable by day’s end. This is not to cast a moral judgment on the propriety of renewable sources of energy, nor to reject their utility on a diversified and lively grid, only to suggest their unreliability when extreme distress accompanies unforeseen weather. This seems to be an unfortunate truth from which renewables can’t easily be disentangled.
For what it’s worth, non-renewable sources of energy fared little better. The quantity of natural gas for which the moment called was insufficient, and the pipes through which it might’ve flowed had there been enough, were frozen. The few nuclear reactors by which Texas is served were likewise affected in a discouraging way. Sensitive to the falling temperatures by which the state was suddenly struck, they too decided to hibernate for the hour.
How is it, you might ask, that a state famous for its wealth of subterranean oil could be caught inadequately supplied of so vivifying a liquid? How is it that a state rife with energy and overflowing with fossil fuels, a place to which the old football team known as the Oilers was once home, could suffer the chilly despair of brownouts, blackouts, and frostbitten elders?
The answer, I fear, is not only a climatic, but a political one. It’s an answer at which, admittedly, many will bristle, but it’s one about which none should be left in the dark.
Years of federal and state subsidies for wind turbines, solar panels, and delightfully “green” infrastructure have come at a cost; attention to and procurement of natural gas has diminished. So too has the focus on the development of more nuclear facilities, a source of energy about which—in the unshared opinion of your humble speaker—we all might be a bit more sanguine. For the past few years, wind and solar energy might’ve been over-emphasized, while the more “catastrophe-resistant” forms (such as coal and natural gas) were pushed aside.
Either way, as stated, the unprecedented nature of this event might make all such arguments meaningless. It was, as we can all agree, a veritable force majeure, an act of God in the presence of which all political squabbles should be rendered, if only momentarily, mute.
As a result of all this, dozens have perished, some in horrific ways. The exact number of the fatalities, sadly, will remain unknown for weeks to come. All we can do is applaud the indefatigable efforts of those trying to restore energy to the state, and warmth to the cold.