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COVID-19 is a PRELUDE – The South in Crisis! – The Steps We Must Take to Stave Off Something Worse

Updated: Mar 13, 2021


Photo: The Texas Tribune

The 2030s promise to be the longest, hottest, and bloodiest decade in both America and the world over since the 1960s, and they have to be. Not because you or I want it to be, but because the Global North, which is responsible for 92% of excess global carbon emissions, will fail to slash emissions enough to keep Earth's temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels before 2030 — the deadline given in the Paris climate agreement. Chief amongst the Global Northern countries is the United States, which is responsible for 40% of the excess global carbon emissions and ranks 40th in its transition toward low-carbon energy, a far cry from the top six nations – Iceland, Denmark, Norway, France, Ireland, and Finland – which are all designated by MIT Technology Review as “high income” nations, but none are as distinctly wealthy as the United States. There has never been an honest effort made on the part of the Global North to solve the climate crisis. One example being when ExxonMobil lobbied the European Commission in an effort to influence the European Union Green Deal by eliminating the EU’s carbon vehicle tailpipe standards: “While there is no evidence that either Exxon or Commission officials acted improperly, the document gives rare insight into how energy majors engage with the lawmaking process, in ways that could effectively slow policies designed to curb carbon emissions.” The European Energy Forum (EEF) this past February got together with the International Association of Gas and Oil Producers (IOGP) and arranged a “dinner debate” to promote oil, gas, hydrogen, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) infrastructure within the Green Deal. The problem will never be solved by hypocrisy. If anything, hypocrisy will drive humanity further down the road to extinction. Yet, all these nations have done is attempt to solve it in hypocritical ways that would enable them to maintain their power. In her book “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate,” activist Naomi Klein points out how the Global North and highly developed industrialized nations are able to claim lower emissions because they have outsourced large swaths of their labor forces to China, India, and other nations throughout the Global South. This enables them to point the finger at or pass the buck to the Global South while neglecting to clean up their own house:


“The emissions that went into producing, say, the television in my living room,

appear nowhere on Canada’s emissions ledger, but rather are attributed

entirely to China’s ledger, because that’s where the set was made… It [the

system] has allowed rapidly de-industrializing wealthy states to claim that their

emissions have stabilized or even gone down when, in fact, the emissions

embedded in their consumption have soared since the free trade era” (Klein

79).


The more climate change exacerbates the living conditions of people throughout the world, the more it will feed their frustrations and culminate in a dangerously explosive atmosphere – proof of which we can find currently in Texas.


Currently, Texas is undergoing a nor’easter, weather uncharacteristic of what is supposed to be a state with warm weather year-round. The culprit of course is climate change. Many are confused, however, as to why climate change has caused the inverse of global warming in this particular case. The reason for this is that the polar vortex, an area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both the Earth’s poles, has been slowed as a result of what is referred to as “sudden stratospheric warming.” In layman’s terms, there was a considerable temperature spike in the stratosphere miles above the North Pole. This is especially disconcerting when you consider that atmospheric scientists are projecting that these uncharacteristic weather patterns will occur more frequently. For example, in his article “Polar vortex brought brutal cold to Texas. Could that happen in California?,” writer John Lindsey points out that California meteorologists are projecting “a deep trough of low pressure developing over the West Coast during the second week of March that could lead to freezing temperatures, much-needed rain and low-elevation snow throughout the Golden State.”


The Texas crisis is perhaps, more than anything else, an indictment of deregulation and its arbiter, capitalism. Proponents of deregulation claimed that it was supposed to guarantee dependable power at a cheaper price. This rationale was sufficient to shift Texas almost entirely from full-service regulated utilities to retail electric companies, beginning in 1999. Approximately sixty percent of Texas consumers flocked to retail electric companies under this program, the largest and most ambitious energy deregulation project in the nation. Deregulation was a farce even before Winter Storm Uri; the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that since 2004, deregulated Texas consumers paid $28 million more for electricity than their peers who used the state’s traditional utilities. Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, aptly compared energy deregulation in Texas to “abolishing the speed limit on an interstate highway.” In response to current criticism, Republican politicians have been quick to deflect from the deregulation question and place the blame squarely on a Green New Deal that has yet to be implemented. This is not to exonerate the Green New Deal; it is an imperialist agenda. However, it represents the bare minimum that can be done and dealing with climate change will require much more radical approaches than the Green New Deal, approaches which will prove unacceptable to the Republicans and the United States government at large. In addition, at the beginning of the crisis, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) was able to avoid accountability by using the alibi of “rolling blackouts” – turning off electricity in select areas to save power – to hide the fact that they had leased their power grid to private companies. As of March 10, the Texas Supreme Court is contemplating whether to extend sovereign immunity to ERCOT, a claim which is being contested by Harris County attorneys. If the Court rules in favor of ERCOT, it would represent a big blow to the well-meaning people of Texas who are bent on justice, as well as to the national environmental justice movement. It would be impossible to sue ERCOT.


Additionally, the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri represents a clear example of environmental racism and de facto segregation. Our own co-founder and environmental justice activist, Alexia Leclercq, spoke to me regarding their activism in the Texas capitol of Austin on the ground with PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources). They tell me that Austin, where PODER is based, is stratified along racial lines. West Austin is predominantly White and possesses all of the characteristics of a traditional suburb. East Austin, where PODER has its headquarters, is predominantly Black and Brown. Its Rosewood district, as of 2019, had nearly 50% of its residents living below the poverty line. Life expectancy was measured to be about 72 years. By contrast, in an area five miles near Enfield Road in West Austin, 10% of residents live below the poverty line and life expectancy is measured to be about 83 years. This particular area, again as of 2019, was 88% White. Compared to this predominantly White area in West Austin, Rosewood has inferior jobs, inferior housing, and inferior education, which leads to inferior jobs. The racial stratification does not stop at Austin; Acres Homes, a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood situated in Houston’s northwest, suffered from a loss of power and frozen pipes. The New York Times finds that in Houston, minority communities more often than not are situated near industrial sites, leaving them exposed to pollution regularly but especially susceptible now given that air monitoring stations are down. Alexia tells me that while the government has dragged its feet, PODER and other local grassroots organizations have been working tooth and nail through the frigid cold to provide mutual aid and other services to the community. They also emphasized to me the disproportionate impact which the storm has had on disabled people. In doing my own research, I happened upon a USA Today article by writer N’dea Yancey-Bragg titled “They have chronic illnesses. Then, the power went out in Texas. ‘It's been emotionally exhausting.’” It cites the example of Hannah Giffin, a 24-year-old with four chronic illnesses who was forced to ration her oxygen after her family lost power and left her without the ability to charge her oxygen generator. “For people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, losing power can ‘be a matter of life and death,’” said Jane Buchanan of Human Rights Watch.



Compounding matters further is the fact that Texas’ prison population is suffering inordinately under the weight of this. Thirty-three prisons lost power and twenty suffered water shortages – figures contrary to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s claim that generators kept power on in prisons. Even more heartbreaking,