Texas blame ’em: When disasters turn political, we all lose

Brandon Pytel
Feb 19 · 3 min read

It’s a mess in Texas, and everyone’s playing the blame game.

This week, a record cold front and series of winter storms swept through Texas, leaving at least 30 Texans dead and nearly 5 million without power. While millions of Americans huddle together for warmth, politicians are using the opportunity to point fingers and spout lies.

“This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” Texas Governor Greg Abbot told Fox News on Tuesday. “It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”

Satellite imagery of nighttime lights in Houston, Texas, after winter weather caused widespread power outages in the region. NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens.

Other politicians, including fellow Texan Rep. Dan Crenshaw, followed suit: “This is what happens when you force the grid to rely in part on wind as a power source,” Crenshaw tweeted. “When weather conditions get bad as they did this week, intermittent renewable energy like wind isn’t there when you need it.”

The comments show a deeply political response to an unraveling tragedy. All the blame game does is simplify complicated problems, distracting us from the real challenges at hand. In reality, Texas’s mess is a combination of factors.

Wind turbines only make up 7% of Texas’s power grid in the winter. Natural gas, coal, and nuclear power handle roughly 80%. Texas is also the only state to operate its own power grid, making it more susceptible when crisis strikes. And its infrastructure is ill prepared for extreme weather — while some wind turbines did freeze, so did natural gas pipelines, as well as gas and coal generators. Gov. Abbot even tweeted as much.

This tendency to politicize crises is nothing new. Early in the pandemic, wearing masks became a political statement, leading to unnecessary deaths. For months, former President Trump created his own crisis by falsely claiming election fraud, eventually inciting a riot that led to the deaths of five people. Trump also threatened to refuse aid to California during last year’s record wildfire season.

In an increasingly partisan era, division and finger-pointing may just be a sign of the times. But it also may be part of human nature.

Climate change and its impacts are complicated, changing, uncertain, and even contradictory — though the science is unclear, global warming could very well be behind the sweeping cold fronts.

So to make sense of an intersectional, multi-faceted problem like climate change, we point fingers. As soon as we create responsibility, we create blame, making it easier for us to look for a scapegoat rather than reevaluate the systematic cracks in our system.

Most of the time, we don’t have to grapple with the costs and can kick the can down the road. But when disasters arrive at our doorstep, as it did this week in Texas, that strategy becomes increasingly futile and ultimately dangerous.

While his state continues to face power outages and now water shortages, Sen. Ted Cruz was spotted Thursday on an airplane to Cancún. The New York Times later uncovered text messages that indicated Cruz and his family were planning a several-day vacation. But speaking to the press, Cruz had a different story.

“With school canceled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends. Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon,” said Cruz in a statement.

When faced with irrational and indefensible behavior, some go so far as to blame their daughters. Meanwhile, millions of people in Texas struggle to stay warm.

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Brandon Pytel

Written by

Environmental writer living in Washington, DC. Opinions are his own.

Planet Days

An environmental newsroom with a flair for drama and a fanfare for Earth, informing and empowering people who prefer the planet liveable.

Brandon Pytel

Written by

Environmental writer living in Washington, DC. Opinions are his own.

Planet Days

An environmental newsroom with a flair for drama and a fanfare for Earth, informing and empowering people who prefer the planet liveable.

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