Last week was a terrifying experience for those in Texas. Millions lost power due to freezing temperatures and extreme winter weather that rocked the Lone Star State last week. San Antonio saw over 10 inches of snow and Austin saw 6 degree conditions.
We want to help you breakdown what happened and why and what this means going forward. Before that, we must give our condolences to those who lost their lives (30-40 by most estimates) and suffered through the week without power due to the freeze (over 4 million).
There are 4 Core Issues that took place here worth unpacking:
- Texas’ Energy Independence
- Texas’ Energy Free Market
- Climate Change Induced Historic Freeze
- Lack of Preparation from the Last Freeze
Texas’ Energy Independence
Texas is the only state of the lower 48 that is NOT on the national electricity grid. It sits completely on it’s own save for a few towns on or near the border such as El Paso. However this storm ripped through the heartland, not the border towns.
The reason for this is simple economic. Texas produces more energy than any other state. And they do it with a pretty healthy mix of thermal (natural gas, coal), nuclear, and renewable. In fact Texas leads the nation in wind energy production and should be applauded for that.
Texas makes a lot of money from selling energy to other states and across the world. They also have enough of their own supply to provide for the state, and by not connecting to the national grid, they avoid having some of their excess energy syphoned off into states that need it when their own disasters strike without being fully compensated as they would in the private market.
Good ole “make as much money as possible at any costs and risk necessary”.
When weather is state or within expectations, as it usually is in Texas, this is good for the state. Good for the budget. Good for its citizens. But boy oh boy, when extreme weather comes, they don’t have the national grid to fill the gap if their system goes out.
As for those wind turbines, they represent just 16% of Texas’ overall energy output and just 25% of the electricity lost from the power outages, so don’t let anyone watching some propaganda on Fox News tell you otherwise.
The Energy Free Market
We’ve all been there frustrated with our utility supplier with no ability to switch and go with someone else in most states.
“If only utilities were not a monopoly and I had to compete freely on price and customer service!”…I have shouted into my phone MANY times.
In Texas, this reactive dream is the reality. As part of being energy independent, Texas also de-regulated their energy industry. Anyone can offer electricity at any price. The result, prices go down and people do get more affordable plans.
The downside? Last week. Fully private energy providers have no obligation to step up and deliver electricity if frankly they don’t want to or don’t want to spend on the means to do so. Sure they could lose customers, but that’s nothing some good false media spin can’t fix.
It’s like depositing your money in a bank without FDIC Insurance, and the bank decides to shut down business cause it made a bunch of bad investments and you have no means of getting any of your money back.
These private companies also chose not to invest in upgrading their systems to withstand extreme cold, as nobody forced them to do so. They didn’t see the storm coming, so why incur costs you don’t need?
You get what you pay for.
Climate Change Induced Freeze
Let’s get this out fo the way first -more extreme weather is coming. It’s coming all over the place. It’s going to touch nearly everybody in the world at some point. Wildfires are setting records. Hurricane season last year set records. Now winter freezes are setting records. IT IS GOING TO GET WORSE. We don’t say that to scare you, but to prepare you. This is a new reality we will have to content with. So let’s saddle up for it, and fight like hell to mitigate it long term.
So what happened here scientifically?
In a nutshell: the stratosphere - one of the lower layers of our atmosphere - has been experiencing rapid heating above the Arctic - the Arctic is melting in case you don’t know by now. This also then weakens the polar vortex and causes cold air that usually is trapped at the poles to lead southward.
Here is a video from Bloomberg that explains:
Look, there is no way to know what % of this was caused by climate change vs. natural fluctuations in the vortex. But there is evidence that the polar vortex and surrounding jets streams are getting weaker and weaker, which will lead to more of these “cold air leaks” going forward. Clearly heating out stratosphere and melting the Arctic is not helping, and climate change is absolutely directly tied to both of those things.
Lack of Preparation
Finally, it’s important to note that this freeze was historic particularly in the range and scope of it, but It was not unprecedented. In 2011 another freeze caused rolling blackouts in Texas and left 3.2 million without power. Yet, nothing was done to safeguard the system for anything potentially worse.
So WTF Texas? Why didn’t you learn from 2011 and prepare for 2021? Oh that’s right: profits. And who are those profits going to? Oh that’s right, people who are already rich. But you did lower energy costs for many people. Well that’s great. Although, as you’ll see in this piece, some of those people now owe tens of thousands of dollars in energy bills from last week alone due to spikes in demand, more than offsetting the hundreds of dollars they might have saved with slightly lower energy prices.
Good job Texas.
If you can support the relief efforts for those in need, please do. Here is a link to AOC's fundraiser which has raised over $5M so far.
Climate Literacy: The Missing Piece to Effective Climate Action
The following story was contributed by The West Lafayette Climate Strike which is an awesome youth led movement standing up for climate and pushing their community to do more. They are particular advocates of Climate Literacy and in their piece below they will break down why this is such an issue in an era of misinformation and what their plan is to push it forward.
Climate Illiteracy (Gabriela Weiner)
Myths and misconceptions about climate change are often more prevalent than truths. Despite solid scientific research and findings, much of the population lacks basic understanding on climate change; much of the population is illiterate in terms of climate change. According to this study from Yale University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that 52% of Americans could not pass a quiz with basic questions on climate change science.
Some of the most common misconceptions about climate change are that global warming is a part of a natural cycle, the effects of climate change would occur in the far future, that renewable energy is much more costly than nonrenewables and fossil fuels, and that cold weather can negate any claim of climate change. Some conspiracy theorists even believe that climate change is an elaborate hoax. Visit this site for more information about common climate misconceptions.
Climate change myths are echoed in the media and from the mouths of politicians as well. Here are a few recent examples:
Some media outlets maintain that renewable energy is to blame in regards to the Texas power crisis. The reality of the situation is that most of the Texas energy providers that went offline were fossil fuel powered.
Another, more absurd and frightening example, is the claim of Marjorie Green, a United States representative, that a Jewish space laser was responsible for the bad wildfire season in California. The worsening wildfires can, too, be traced back to climate change.
Climate change misconceptions prevent necessary policy and governmental action. Here are just a few quotes from US politicians that demonstrate how climate illiteracy impedes action:
Senator Richard Shelley: "Important scientific research is ongoing, and there are still many questions that must be answered before we take steps to address this issue."
Representative Jim Banks: “I believe that climate change in this country is largely leftist propaganda to change the way Americans live and create more government obstruction and intrusion in our lives.”
Senator Jim Inhofe: “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it!”
This apparent lack of understanding and belief in science has led to division, skepticism, and conspiracy theories. Climate literacy is essential to bringing about long term solutions.
Our Current Educational System (Iris O'Donnell Bellisario)
As a lifetime student in Indiana, I’ve rarely heard the words “climate change” mentioned throughout my academic career. (Even in college during an environmental economics lecture, my professor prefaced his lecture stating, climate change is something we will not cover, I know that’s a question you will all ask.) Climate literacy and effective education is key to solving the climate crisis. By empowering youth to understand the basic science behind climate change, they can make educated decisions in their daily life, speak to their local decision makers and influence change.
According to this article, Indiana got a “D” for how it educates kids about climate change. In this same report, Indiana ranked 44th in the United States in terms of effective climate change education. If this isn’t alarming, then I don’t know what is. Climate change isn’t being taught in our schools, when it should be the number one focus.
A large portion of the population is in support of incorporating climate change into our education system. In April 2019, National Public Radio announced results regarding attitudes toward teaching climate science. The most notable of which is that 86% of teachers agree that climate change should be taught, 80+% of parents in the U.S. support the teaching of climate change.
To help incorporate climate change into our education system, some organizations have developed toolkits for educators. If you’re an educator, check out this link for some amazing resources!
One of the greatest benefits of incorporating climate change into our education system is building resilience. Resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to hazardous events, trends or disturbances related to climate change. By explaining the predicted climate changes to youth in a specific community, they are able to help their family prepare, whether that be stock up on extra winter supplies in case of a power outage, growing natives in their yard and building a bioswale to help with increased rainfall, or working with their city leaders to pass a climate resolution. Youth can and will be our future leaders, and we need to prepare them with the information necessary to make educated decisions.
Our Solution: Climate Kidz
Climate literacy should be an essential component in our education system. However, we find that climate change education is lacking in many school systems. To combat this issue in our community, we've launched Climate Kidz.We plan to engage kids with a variety of materials to increase their climate literacy, because climate literacy is climate resiliency.
The core of Climate Kidz is education: we want to increase the climate literacy of our community using science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts. We will show the kids tangible actions they can take to prepare our city for the climate crisis. First, we will create small community libraries with literature exploring climate resiliency.
Another information hub will be on our webpage: wlclimate.com/climatekidz, which includes climate resiliency projects and the STEM processes that underlie them. For example, we teach local kids about photosynthesis and germination with our vertical gardens project, decomposition with our composting project, carbon footprints from foods and human health with our food pantry project, and biodiversity with native plant initiatives. The other pages on our webpage are focused solely on education, and the topics include the technology and engineering of resilient infrastructure, the basic science of sustainability and climate resiliency, and how climate resiliency and COVID-19 are interconnected.
Climate Kidz is still in a preliminary stage, so we have lots of ideas to take it to the next level. On our immediate agenda is to create the climate literacy libraries and host resiliency projects. From there, we can focus on building a mentoring program, which will further guide the kids on their journey to learn and take action. As we move forward, we will also create a larger curriculum to cover more STEM and climate resiliency topics. Another area that we will build on is expanding the Climate Kidz initiative to other cities and therefore making a bigger impact.
Please support the West Lafayette Climate Strike's goal to introduce Climate Literacy into their Education System by donating by giving a small donation.
There is a growing debate in the wildlife conservation community surrounding the use of synthetic wildlife parts - such as faux rhino horns, bit cat fur, and pangolin scales to help combat poaching and trafficking.
With the advancements of 3D printing, materials science and biotechnology the "fakes" are getting increasingly difficult to differentiate. And since so many of these wildlife parts have no actual scientific or medicinal usage despite what you here from those who traffic it or use it in traditional medicine, it can ultimately be hard to tell them apart. Take this recipe for rhino horn as an example.
But is this a net positive for conservation efforts or will it cause more problems than it causes?
The Case For Synthetics
Let's start here. Here are the arguments for synthetics:
1) By using synthetics to increase overall supply, you will push down price via basic economics, and this reduced price will work to push those who finance poaching for the high profits elsewhere, effectively lowering the trafficking over time
2) By using a "covert approach" suggested by economist Yet Chen, you can design synthetics to degrade over time and hurt the trust in the market of what's what legit vs. what's not, making trafficking business even harder to navigate and pushing folks out
3) This is simply a bridge solution while we continue to fight poaching and trafficking, not a replacement to it. And any positive impact in this fight, even if it's short-term, is impact worth having
The Case Against Synthetics
Now for the case against.
1) Synthetics could open up doors for laundering wild products by "claiming" they are synthetic
2) Synthetics could keep demand going for the products overall and work to reduce the stigma that is growing against them
3) They could bring in new customers into wildlife products who might otherwise have not touched this space
4) Law enforcement work could be much harder if they have to accurately detect synthetics from wild when doing seizures
This is a tough one. And we'll leave it to the conservationists in the field who we rely on for our content to decide. However the problems from synthetics do seem to be real and troublesome, and perhaps the biggest issue is they may work against stigma reduction. Ultimately the only way out of this is changing the culture to be pro-wildlife and against wildlife products.
One hybrid approach, as covered in this piece from MongaBay, is to target synthetic use only to those local communities who rely on these parts to maintain their culture norms and identity, such as the Shembe Church in South Africa. They don leopard fur in many of their traditional ceremonies. So Panthera & Furs for Life partnered up to make synthetics that allowed them to maintain their practices but without killing leopards.
They obliged. Why is that wealthy elites are so resistant to changes in things they don't actually need, yet indigenous people are happy to adapt for the sake of progress and conservation when it directly impacts their actual culture and identity? Across the board we here at Animalia continue to learn from indigenous cultures not only how to live in harmony with nature but to check our own egos and interests at the door for the greater good. And we will continue to advocate to see them represented better in social discord and government.
You've probably seen lots of companies in the last few years publicly announce their commitment to the climate crisis and getting to carbon neutrality.
It's the craze sweeping across corporate America. Just gotta look the part and say the right things and let the chips fall as they may. A recent article by The New York Times highlighted how much of this banks on a lot of fluff and speculation.
1) Many company plans are simply too ambitious. They are good for headlines but will undoubtedly not be met but by the time that reckoning comes, the company will have benefited from years of brand boost as "climate activists" and come up with some excuse when the gig is up.
2) Others are banking on simply being able to purchase offsets at certain prices and making enough profits to do so. Effectively not changing their operations or footprint at all.
3) Some simply lack details on exactly how they plan on getting to the headline.
Sadly, in today's social media world we primarily only consume headlines. Then we react to them and yell at anybody who will listen. So the game is not that hard to play here.
Delta in the Spotlight
Perhaps no plan was more ambitious than Delta. Promising to be the first carbon neutral airline in the world. That's a tall order for a company whose entire livelihood depends on burning fossil fuels.
However when you take a peek under the hood here, you'll uncover a few things...
- A majority of their plan relies on purchasing offsets. Essentially ways to neutralize your carbon footprint by making financial transactions in efforts to support the planet. Sounds good in theory right? Well let's take a common offset transaction - tree planting. Corporations including Delta plan on giving a lot of money to big tree planting organizations. But not every tree planted is worth the same offset in carbon. For one they need to be planted in areas of need, not just anywhere convenient as the net effects of each tree are not the same. For another, did you know the average life span of a tree today planted via these programs is just 5 to 6 years? Why? Cause tree maintenance and care are not covered in these plans. But Delta "books" the credit as if they are.
- Another big portion of their plan is based on speculative investments in things like carbon capture that they just assume will fully work at scale on their timeline to reach their goals. Delta is not saying "here is our highly speculative plan that depends on lots of unknowns" to be Carbon Neutral. No they are owning it as if this is 100% gonna happen. It's like me pumping junk food into my system today saying "well, I'm also investing some money in future drugs to eliminate diabetes with the snap of a finger, so, I'm really actually living very balanced and healthy." No.
Our recommendation here at Animalia - pass a carbon tax and start applying the true costs to emission-heavy companies like airlines and force them from a business perspective to make real changes faster - or someone else will and eat their market share.