2020 was a hard hitting year for sure, and 2021--with all the hope of moving forward into better times--has had… Hm. Quite an eventful first quarter itself.
You probably heard, saw or experienced the record-breaking freezing temperatures in Texas last month. Northern Texas saw an arctic low of -19 degrees, and February 14-16 alone saw an average of just 10 degrees.
If you’re an outsider to Texas, hearing these temperatures is probably a shock. Sunny, hot Texas? One of the states that prides itself on warm weather and vast deserts?
While it’s scary to hear, it should come as no surprise that this is a direct result of climate change. Let’s get into how it’s happening, why it matters and how we can help.
So… How is This Global Warming?
When people think of climate change, many think of its original title “global warming.” The first thing that comes to mind for that phrase might be melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures.
How, then, can we possibly say that what happened in Texas is global warming when it looks like the exact opposite?
Those are definitely results of climate change… But so are arctic temperatures where there shouldn’t be.
To discuss how both colder and warmer temperatures can be simultaneous effects of climate change, we have to talk about the polar vortex. The polar vortex is a stream of cold wind that circles each of the Earth’s poles. The Northern vortex has a huge effect on our season’s temperatures, as it strengthens and increases its span during winter. The opposite happens during the Northern Hemisphere’s summers.
Sounds pretty orderly, right?
It usually is--but the warmer temperatures of Earth’s oceans destabilizes the polar vortex, causing the winds to “break off” from their original pattern and further south. States like Chicago and New York have been known to experience the vortex winds in winter--but for those winds to reach down as south as Texas is extremely concerning.
How It Affected Texas
What happened in Texas isn’t just completely out of the norm, it quite frankly devastated the state.
In terms of how it affected the state’s citizens, the results were near-catastrophic.
Texas isn’t normally a place where residents have to blast their heaters--and power companies typically have been able to keep up with the demand.
However--in face of the oncoming snow and freezing winds--Texans were inclined to turn on their heaters for the first time in a while. The result: a failure to keep up with power demands, which caused generators to go offline for precautionary purposes…
All adding up to rolling power blackouts.
For other states, this wouldn’t have had the same devastating consequences, as they can usually purchase power from others to keep up with the demand. But Texas is on its own power grid, and hasn’t been properly maintained to keep up with these sorts of scenarios… Because in what world would Texas ever have a blizzard?
The consequences of these power and water blackouts (due to pipes freezing) were more than just uncomfortable to Texans--in some cases it was deadly.
Of course, people weren't the only residents suffering from the biting cold. Biologists report that while most of Texas’ wildlife can survive short spans of strangely cold weather, its long term effects could be devastating. Waterfowl mortality skyrocketed around the wetlands, and fish that generally live in shallow waters couldn't survive the sudden freeze.
At the beginning of the dropped temperatures, there was a mass effort to rescue nearly 4900 “cold-stunned” sea turtles around South Padre Island. While the saving efforts were phenomenal, there is no telling how much of the sea turtle population in the area may have perished.
Wildlife finds a way to survive… But how much more unpredictable weather can it take before it’s irreversibly affected?
What We Can Do
To help Texas, there are multiple organizations and charities that you can donate to directly listed here. In terms of how to help for the future… No, we can’t go back in time and reverse this last episode of severe climate change. But we can certainly do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen to that degree again.
First of all: our states need to start being better equipped to handle these temperature drops OR rises. Advocating for things like pipe insulation for water freezing, better management of electricity needs, and alternative power sources are all great ways for Texas in particular to change. Texas primarily uses natural gas as its primary fuel source, which is said to have failed the grid five times more than wind-powered energy.
It’s been made clear time and time again that nothing will change without our voices, so make sure yours heard! Tell your representatives you find it unacceptable what happened in Texas, and that our country needs to advocate for more anti-climate change laws.
Of course, we’d be amiss we didn’t include our own personal accountabilities for the carbon footprints we make.
If you have the means, start thinking about installing solar panels for your home. Not only will this give you an independent energy source if the country’s power grid goes dark; it will also help to deplete the need for natural gas to be used as your power source.
While solar panels may be impossible for some families’ budgets, that doesn’t mean there aren’t cheap ways we can slow climate change too! Every tree we plant, every wildlife habitat we save from construction, each piece of plastic we don’t toss to be incinerated--all of that matters.
It matters because the world we live in matters.
Will Texas’ polar temperatures be the last instance of climate change in our coming future? Probably not.
Is it worth putting our all into at least slowing the process? 100%.