Wild winter weather, of the kind we are used to in much of the country, has hit the South with crippling storms and record-breaking low temperatures. The power grid in several states has been unreliable, leaving millions of people in Texas, especially, but as well in other midwestern states, without heat, or light, or any connection to news and emergency warnings. It was colder this week in Kansas City, Missouri, than in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Seems weird to say it, in the middle of a cold snap. But we are all feeling and seeing it: Extreme weather.
I happen to love reading about developments in science. Right now, there’s a fascinating debate going on among climate scientists about how exactly warming causes freezing.
In a nutshell: Arctic warming — which is hitting new records — is weakening the jet stream. That’s the air current that circles the northern part of our globe. That jet stream normally keeps those freezing polar temperatures up there at the pole. But when that jet stream is weaker, the cold air begins to seep down into the southern states. So we get periods of stalled, low temperatures.
All of this will continue to be studied, of course. But meantime, it feels as if the only thing we can count on is that there is no new normal. No normal winter, no normal summer weather. No normal weather patterns, which makes life hell for farmers.
Droughts are more prolonged, wildfires more intense, heat waves more severe, cold snaps more disastrous. All of it puts an enormous stress on every part of our infrastructure, from the roads we drive on to the utilities we rely on for our power.
Of course, it is the poorest people who are hit the hardest, without access to backup generators, residing in poorly insulated buildings, with fragile access to clean water, much less broadband.
We can expect more chaos. We need to be prepared for it. We will all be paying a high price for the years of denial and obstruction by the fossil fuel industry. Let’s stop the Texas-style Hot Air about how renewable wind energy was to blame for blackouts. Norway, anyone? Denmark. Russia. Antarctica. Wind works just fine. Let’s focus instead on getting the grid ready for the challenges ahead.
We know what to do. We have the technology and the brains. We need the will to modernize. Push our lawmakers to pass bills to amp up the grid with 100% Clean Energy, and build out the infrastructure we need to power the electric cars, trucks, and buses that don’t spew filth and dangerous pollution into the air. Get a strong EPA back to work protecting us, and cleaning up our air and water.
The first step in this complex and urgent chain of events is confirming a leader at the EPA who understands that the climate crisis demands immediate action, that we must make decisions based on the best-available science, and that we must pursue environmental justice as a priority, not an afterthought. That leader is Michael Regan, and his nomination for EPA administrator may come to the floor of the Senate for a vote as early as next week.
We can do this. But each and every one of us will have to do her part.
And in the meantime, stay warm and safe.