Opinion | Storm Victims Didn’t Bring It on Themselves


Predictably, the Texas politicians who deny the reality of climate change and the utility executives who mismanaged the Texas power grid weren’t the ones who suffered the most in last week’s winter storms. And the people who were hardest hit — residents of minority neighborhoods — sure couldn’t jet off to Cancún with Ted Cruz to escape the cold. “Let them eat snow,” indeed.

There will be investigations into the full array of reasons for the power failures, and Texas officials may even pull themselves together enough to make a plan for mitigating the damage from future extreme weather events. But at this point there is no stopping the weather calamities themselves.

We don’t know for a fact that these particular storms were a result of an unstable climate, though there is science to support that theory. What we do know is that extreme weather is no longer remarkable. The once-in-100-years floods of old — like the 100-year hurricanes and the 100-year forest fires and the 100-year winter storms — are happening far more often now, and their frequency will continue to rise.

These are not acts of God. These are acts of human behavior, the erratic weather patterns of a climate we have incinerated. And as they always do, the poor and the disenfranchised will suffer the most from the damage we’ve done.

In this context, the impulse to take a cheap shot at Southerners on Twitter isn’t remotely as dangerous as the impulse to deny climate change itself, but it matters. Every form of prejudice matters, perhaps especially so when the people who keep pointing out the splinter in someone else’s eye are trying to see around a plank in their own.

Where climate-related weather disasters are concerned, none of us is innocent. We all created this emergency. With our gasoline engines and our chemically fertilized crops and our factory farms and our addiction to plastic and paper towels, we’re all guilty. And if we have so far escaped the worst ravages of that unstable climate, we need to admit that it’s not because of how we vote or who we are or what we believe. It’s just luck. Just pure dumb luck. And it’s time to roll up our sleeves.

Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. She is the author of the books “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” and the forthcoming “Graceland, At Last: And Other Essays From The New York Times.”

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