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Commentary: ‘When Texas freezes over’; Arctic conditions in U.S. show climate change is here


By Vasudha Deshpande and Mark Reynolds
Citizens’ Climate Lobby

Sometimes it seems like certain politicians won’t support climate action until hell—or Texas—freezes over. Well after last week, the climate threat is clear as can be, and it’s time for Congress to act.

On February 13, a winter storm began sweeping across the U.S. Within days, the frigid conditions and ensuing infrastructure challenges led to dozens of deaths, massive power outages, and millions without clean water. Texas came within minutes of catastrophic failures that would have caused months-long blackouts.

My (Vasudha’s) cousin who lives in Plano, Texas, with his family went through a power outage. This is a story, narrated by his daughter Roma –

Roma’s house

I woke up finding out that our house has no electricity. To be honest, I wasn’t that worried at first. I thought that the power outage would only last for 30 minutes to an hour. Boy was I wrong. So, no power in the house means no heat. If there’s no heat, it means that my family and I are stuck freezing to death. Also, it’s even worse at night. Another issue was internet connection. I remembered that my grandparents were planning on calling. They live in India, so calls there cost money for us. Now, the power outage happened, and we’re trying to save our phone battery. Calling my grandparents was one of the things we had to not do to save battery. The whole ordeal was like a survival game. It allowed us to make sure that we can adapt, improvise, and overcome.

So, why is this all happening? Typically, a strong jet stream keeps Arctic air locked over the poles. But as we see more variability in our climate and Arctic air warms, the jet stream weakens, gets wavy, and allows frigid air to dip down into lower latitudes.

“The large, persistent, southward dip in the jet stream responsible for this cold invasion is likely to happen more frequently in a warming climate,” climate scientist Jennifer Francis told national climate reporters. She notes that “warmer-than-normal spells” will happen more frequently, too.

As this pattern persists, we will continue to deal with challenges like power outages and unsafe or limited drinking water — life-threatening conditions in the wake of extreme weather itself. (And contrary to some claims, the outages were not due to an over-reliance on renewable energy. Not only wind turbines froze, but so did instruments, gas pipelines, coal piles, and natural gas compressors.)

Mark Reynolds

There’s plenty to be said about modernizing America’s power grid, improving battery storage, and so on, to be better prepared for future extreme temperatures. But the root challenge is the same: we’re feeling the impact of climate change here and now, and we’re running out of time to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the problem. We must therefore use all the tools at our disposal to curtail those emissions.

One of the most effective tools is an ambitious price on carbon that will speed up the transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy. A carbon tax can quickly slash our emissions and save lives—plus, when designed right, it can actually pay people and benefit American business. Endorsements from the scientific community, businesses, economists, and more show that this is the consensus solution.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently released a new report naming a carbon tax as one of the solutions to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently announced its support of a “market-based approach to accelerate emissions reductions” — in other words, a price on carbon. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is a longtime supporter of this approach, advocating not just for a carbon tax but for revenue to be returned to Americans in cash.

One example of this approach is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which garnered 85 cosponsors by the end of the last Congress. We urge Senator McConnell to support a carbon pricing policy in the current Congress. We thank Darkness Brewing of Bellevue, NKY Justice and Peace Committee, Joseph Chillo, President of Thomas More University, and Zach Wieber of Icon Solar for endorsing the bill.

The extreme weather ravaging our nation should serve as a warning that our climate could one day be unbearable if we fail to take the actions necessary to rein in climate change. An effective price on carbon with money given to households can put us on the path to preserving a livable world.

Vasudha Deshpande is a volunteer with the Northern Kentucky chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Mark Reynolds is the executive director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.


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2 Comments

  1. Richard says:

    From weather.gov. Records lows in Texas cites. Note the years…

    Abilene………….9 below zero…set in 1947

    Amarillo………..16 below zero…set in 1899

    Austin…………..2 below zero…set in 1949

    Beaumont……..10 degrees……set in 1906

    Brownsville……..12 degrees……set in 1899

    Corpus Christi…..11 degrees……set in 1899

    Dallas/Fort Worth….8 below zero…set in 1899

    Del Rio…………10 degrees……set in 1989

    El Paso………….8 below zero…set in 1962

    Galveston………..8 degrees….. Set in 1899

    Houston………….5 degrees……set in 1930 and 1940

    Lubbock…………17 below zero…set in 1933

    Midland/Odessa…..11 below zero…set in 1985

    San Angelo……….4 below zero…set in 1989

    San Antonio………0 degrees……set in 1949

    Waco…………….5 below zero…set in 1949 and 1899

    Wichita Falls……12 below zero…set in 1947

  2. John L. Keller says:

    The fact that most cold temperature records in Texas were long ago is consistent with the general warming associated with climate change in the region. It is not inconsistent with more frequent cold spells in recent years because there are also more warm spells. While cold spells can still be pretty damn cold from time to time, both cold and warm spells are getting systematically warmer.

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