Ezra Klein | Texas Is a Rich State in a Rich Country, and Look What Happened – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Mark Felix/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“A few months back, because I really know how to live, I spent a night reading “The Green Swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change.” The report, released in January 2020 by the Bank for International Settlements, argued that central banks, concerned as they are with the stability of prices and financial systems, were negligent if they ignored climate change. The economies we know are inseparable from the long climatic peace in which they were built. But that peace is ending. There are no stable prices in a burning world.

This is one of those papers where the measured language preferred by technocrats strains against the horrors they are trying to describe. What emerges is almost an apocalyptic form of poetry. One line, in particular, has rung in my head for months. “Climate-related risks will remain largely unhedgeable as long as systemwide action is not undertaken.” If you know anything about financial regulators, you know the word “unhedgeable” is an alarm bell shrieking into the night. Financial systems are built to hedge risk. When a global risk is unhedgeable, the danger it poses is existential.

The point of the report is simply this: The world’s economic systems teeter atop “backward-looking risk assessment models that merely extrapolate historical trends.” But the future will not be like the past. Our models are degrading by the day, and we don’t understand — we don’t want to understand — how much in society could topple when they fail, and how much suffering that could bring. One place to start is by recognizing how fragile the basic infrastructure of civilization is even now, in this climate, in rich countries.

Which brings me to Texas. Two facts from that crisis have gotten less attention than they deserve. First, the cold in Texas was not a generational climatic disaster. The problem, as Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental analyst at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote in his newsletter, is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ worst-case scenario planning used a 2011 cold snap that was a one-in-10-year weather event. It wasn’t even the worst cold Texas experienced in living memory: in 1989 temperatures and electricity generation (as a percentage of peak demand) dropped even further than they did in 2011. Texas hadn’t just failed to prepare for the far future. It failed to prepare for the recent past.

Second, it could have been so much worse. Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of ERCOT, said Texas was “seconds and minutes” from complete energy system collapse — the kind where the system needs to be rebuilt, not just rebooted. “If we had allowed a catastrophic blackout to happen, we wouldn’t be talking today about hopefully getting most customers their power back,” Mr. Magness said. “We’d be talking about how many months it might be before you get your power back.”

This was not the worst weather imaginable and this was not the worst outcome imaginable. Climate change promises far more violent events to come. But this is what it looks like when we face a rare-but-predictable stretch of extreme weather, in a rich state in a rich country. The result was nearly 80 deaths — and counting — including an 11-year-old boy found frozen in his bed. I can barely stand to write those words.” . . .

Thomas Friedman | Can You Believe This Is Happening in America? – The New York Times

” . . . What’s going on? Well, in the case of Texas and Mars, the basic answers are simple. Texas is the poster child for what happens when you turn everything into politics — including science, Mother Nature and energy — and try to maximize short-term profits over long-term resilience in an era of extreme weather. The Mars landing is the poster child for letting science guide us and inspire audacious goals and the long-term investments to achieve them.

The Mars mind-set used to be more our norm. The Texas mind-set has replaced it in way too many cases. Going forward, if we want more Mars landings and fewer Texas collapses — what’s happening to people there is truly heartbreaking — we need to take a cold, hard look at what produced each.

The essence of Texas thinking was expressed by Gov. Greg Abbott in the first big interview he gave to explain why the state’s electricity grid failed during a record freeze. He told Fox News’s Sean Hannity: “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. … Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10 percent of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. … It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”

The combined dishonesty and boneheadedness of those few sentences was breathtaking. The truth? Texas radically deregulated its energy market in ways that encouraged every producer to generate the most energy at the least cost with the least resilience — and to ignore the long-term trend toward more extreme weather.” . . . .

Paul Krugman | Et Tu, Ted? Why Deregulation Failed – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“Nobody is ever fully prepared for natural disaster. When hurricanes, blizzards or tsunamis strike they always reveal weaknesses — failure to plan, failure to invest in precautions.

The disaster in Texas, however, was different. The collapse of the Texas power grid didn’t just reveal a few shortcomings. It showed that the entire philosophy behind the state’s energy policy is wrong. And it also showed that the state is run by people who will resort to blatant lies rather than admit their mistakes.

Texas isn’t the only state with a largely deregulated electricity market. It has, however, pushed deregulation further than anyone else. There is an upper limit on wholesale electricity prices, but it’s stratospherically high. And there is essentially no prudential regulation — no requirements that utilities maintain reserve capacity or invest in things like insulation to limit the effects of extreme weather.

The theory was that no such regulation was necessary, because the magic of the market would take care of everything. After all, a surge in demand or a disruption of supply — both of which happened in the deep freeze — will lead to high prices, and hence to big profits for any power supplier that manages to keep operating. So there should be incentives to invest in robust systems, precisely to take advantage of events like those Texas just experienced.” . . .

” . . . The disaster in Texas, however, was different. The collapse of the Texas power grid didn’t just reveal a few shortcomings. It showed that the entire philosophy behind the state’s energy policy is wrong. And it also showed that the state is run by people who will resort to blatant lies rather than admit their mistakes.

Texas isn’t the only state with a largely deregulated electricity market. It has, however, pushed deregulation further than anyone else. There is an upper limit on wholesale electricity prices, but it’s stratospherically high. And there is essentially no prudential regulation — no requirements that utilities maintain reserve capacity or invest in things like insulation to limit the effects of extreme weather.” . . .