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What Matters: The Texas crisis is not how modern life is supposed to work

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As an American living in the 21st century, you expect to be able to flip a switch and have light, heat and the Internet, as well as to get clean water from the tap. Even in a pandemic that’s disrupted so much of daily life and stopped millions of people from being able to send their kids to school.

The Texans shivering in their homes this week are the latest to find the conveniences of modern life are not as guaranteed as we’ve thought. The unfolding power crisis there is another reminder — in case anyone needed it — a year into this pandemic that cities, countries and the whole of modern civilization depend on systems that are complicated and surprisingly easy to disrupt.

FEMA is used to sending help to Texas during hurricane season. Now the federal disaster agency is sending generators to help deal with the continuing ice event that has crippled so much of the country, but most seriously messed with Texas because the Lone Star state wasn’t ready for it.

People are trying to stay warm in their cars.

Fire departments are helping refill oxygen tanks.

Read this from CNN’s latest report:

Jordan Orta, without power at her home in San Antonio, found herself having to sleep in her car Tuesday night with her two-year-old son because it was so cold.

“A lot of people are losing water in my area and were told that they would be shutting (the) water off for the whole city with no idea when it would be back, so we filled up pitchers and tubs,” she told CNN. “I went to H-E-B yesterday and there was no water left, so if we lose water, it’s all we got until who knows when.”

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Texas blame game

If Limbaugh were here today, surely he’d be joining the chorus of Republicans and conservatives blaming wind energy — non-winterized turbines freezing up — for the continued power problems in Texas.

That’s what Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry did on Fox News Tuesday.

“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Abbott said Tuesday on Sean Hannity’s TV program. “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis.”

An hour later Perry — who also served as US secretary of Energy in the Trump administration — echoed that point and argued against the Green New Deal.

Neither mentioned the less friendly fact that there were familiar failures for electricity provided by natural gas that had a larger impact on the Texas spike.

Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, will be hoping voters blame anybody but him for this meltdown.

He also pointed the finger at the body known as ERCOT, or, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, an independent organization that operates Texas’ power grid.

Unlike the rest of the country, Texas basically seceded its electricity from the federal system, a decision being second-guessed as people freeze during blackouts when they need power most.

“This was a total failure by ERCOT,” said Abbott on Tuesday. “These are the experts. These are engineers in the power industry. These aren’t bureaucrats or whatever the case may be. These are specialists, and government has to rely upon on these specialists to be able to deliver in these types of situations.”

Texas gloating about California’s power problems hasn’t aged well

The Hill pulled tweets from Texas lawmakers poking fun at California for its wildfires and power problems in recent years.

Problems with power are bipartisan, clearly.

My favorite of these tweets of Texans criticizing Californians is from Ted Cruz, who said, back in August:

“California is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity. Biden/Harris/AOC want to make CA’s failed energy policy the national standard. Hope you don’t like air conditioning!”

Cruz admitted it’s not a good look today.

“I got no defense,” he tweeted Wednesday with a shrugging emoji. “A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good. Stay safe!”

More of a natural gas problem

None of that will help people trying to stay warm by running their cars (there have been carbon monoxide deaths).

Daniel Cohan is an associate professor of Civil and Environmental engineering at Rice and he told CNN’s Brianna Keilar today it’s actually a symptom of Texas being too reliant on natural gas, which requires a constant stream of gas at all times. And that failed. And the system failed. Watch it here.

“Really what we’re seeing in Texas is that our energy systems fail us,” he said. “I say energy systems because this goes beyond the power system which is so clearly failing us with blackouts, but seeing how vulnerable the natural gas and electricity systems are to each other when we are so reliant on natural gas for supplying both our electricity and heat.”

Cohan also explained effectively why this is such a big deal.

“This is a totally unacceptable crisis for millions of people to be out of power, out of heat, for water systems to be going down now, and deadly situation for people to be so cold in their homes.”

There’s blame to go around, he said, and the failure by ERCOT to adequately plan for this eventuality is worthy of scrutiny.

And we’ve all got to think about the systems that make our lives run and think about what we’ll do when they fail. Because it increasingly feels like they will.

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