In February 2015, Senator James Inhofe stood on the floor of the United States Senate and argued that because it was cold outside — in February — global climate change could not be real. He brought a snowball with him as evidence. The previous month, Senator Inhofe had been made chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works when Republicans took the Senate following the 2014 election.
The senior senator from the great state of Oklahoma was rightly and roundly mocked for this asinine bit of stagecraft, bold only for its stupidity. Inhofe has a long history of climate change denial that’s representative of the GOP’s larger and more deliberate protectionism of the oil and gas industry, now morphed into its own front in the culture war.
Which brings us to Texas. A massive cold front — a “polar vortex” — descended on the entire Midwest, what’s been called a once-in-a-generation storm that includes freezing temperature, snow, and at least one snownado. The storm overwhelmed the power grid in Texas and left millions without power or heat.
Emily Atkin, writing in her excellent Heated blog, explains why this storm happened and why it may not be so once-in-a-generation because of climate change:
The polar vortex—or, rather, the jet stream—is drunk again, bringing frigid and dangerous Arctic weather to millions of Americans. And the situation is worse than it was in 2014.
It is worse in the strictly meteorologically sense. The extreme cold pummeling the U.S. right now is, according to Accuweather, “the most active winter weather pattern across the country likely since the mid-1990s.”
I remember first learning about how climate change would lead to more and more intense polar vortexes and thinking, glibly, how deeply ironic it was that global warming would be responsible for harsher winters in the very part of the world where climate change denial was most prevalent. It seriously made me question my disbelief in god and that maybe we truly were meant to suffer the whims of a cruel and vicious deity.
The situation in Texas, where at least 20 people have died, perfectly and succinctly offers a view of a fairly dire future. Climate change doesn’t just mean hotter summers but more unpredictable weather. We know this. We’ve known this for years and we’re already living it.
The kind of infrastructure we were good at building through the middle of the 20th Century was not built to handle this unpredictability — and it’s been failing anyway due to old age and forty years of neglect. There will be more failures on the scale of Texas’s power grid.
And when these systems fail, the failures will be exploited by cynics and craven idealogues, which will only make the core problems harder to solve. Imagine how much damage the outright lying on Fox News1 about this storm — just this storm — has done.
This is a future driven by chaos, and the cycle only seems to be accelerating.
Roger Ailes founded Fox News with the explicit purpose of being a counterweight to the news coverage that brought down Nixon. His vision — and it has succeeded brilliantly — was to create an alternative to the reality that the press reported on, a reality that would allow the right wing to remain in power even in the face of objective fact.
Mark Zuckerberg had no such grand plan but his negligence has allowed for the alternate universe envisioned by Ailes to thrive and grow exponentially.
These chaos agents are no different than global warming and just as threatening. ↩︎