The New Old Normal

The New Old Normal


Leonard Zwelling

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

“The Hollow Men” T.S. Eliot

We have had a glimpse into the future and into the past all at once this week in Texas. For very complex reasons, having to do with the way the state chose to distribute power, the period of extreme cold caused the energy grid to groan and creak (see attached op-ed from Houston Chronicle of February 18). That grid is separate from that of the rest of the nation so there was no help in sight. Texans lost power—millions of them including me and probably you, too. Then we lost water as pipes froze and burst despite the best intentions of wrapping and insulation. No matter what you did, it wasn’t enough to sneak past Mother Nature and the lack of leadership in the state when it comes to energy distribution. Texas took a huge fall from which it may not recover for some time. This is a Harvey level screw up that was anticipated and should have been planned for.

Without a doubt, there will be inquiries from Austin to Washington, D.C. to affix blame for the catastrophe. Here though, unlike in D.C., this is a one party state when it comes to leadership and the Republicans have to own this, particularly Governor Abbott who has once again proven himself clueless, inept, and unable to plan for a fully foreseen disaster. Shame on him.

So Texans shivered in the cold. Some filled up the rare available hotel rooms that could be found. We found one in downtown for one night when we had neither power nor water. Of course we returned home to a flood as a ceiling pipe fractured and spilled its contents throughout a downstairs bathroom. The pipes have been fixed now, but the residual damage will take weeks to repair and cost a small fortune, I’m sure. I have no illusions that we are out of the woods. Power outages could recur and it’s still cold out there. Now that I am competent in local water management, I was instructed to close the main valve at the street and drain the water from the house as it will be a hard freeze again tonight. Done!

I have felt for the past four days like it was 1791 and I was camped out with John Adams whose biography I just finished. No running water, no central heat, no indoor plumbing and no power. Let’s add to that the scourge and vaccination against an infectious disease—small pox then, coronavirus now. Welcome to Colonial America. Add to that the ransacking of the Capitol on January 6, 2021 that echoes similar events in 1814 and you can be forgiven for thinking you have entered the Way Back Machine with Mr. Peabody.

But this may also be a glimpse into the future when climate change results in a shift of the jet stream and cold temperatures penetrating the southern parts of the U.S. leaving us huddled in the dark like better-dressed cavemen.

I lived through Allison and Harvey. They were terrible storms. Disasters occurred in those storms due to poor planning on the part of humans from auxiliary power units placed in the basements of hospitals to entire housing developments built in flood plains.

Whether or not you subscribe to the belief that climate change is man made or natural, it cannot be denied any more and anything we can do to slow the effects of global warming must be done as young Greta Thunberg and old Al Gore have told us.

Unless you want your kids and grandkids to live in a world like Texas February 2021 in the future, we must completely redo our energy policies, look for alternative forms of power, and plan for both extreme heat and extreme cold. This should not be a problem as North Dakota and Montana deal with cold well and surely Florida (and Texas in the past) used to deal with heat.

I have found the last few days the most exhausting since my internship at Duke almost 50 years ago. This cannot become the new old normal. I don’t want to go back to 1791, nor look at a future that resembles it.

Let’s investigate why this happened and hold those responsible accountable in criminal court if necessary for surely people died because of the action of some leaders in the state of Texas. Then, let’s get serious about climate change. It’s real and even if it’s not totally man made, we will all be better off if we do the little things to decrease its effects on the world.

I’m old. It may not matter to me personally but I have grandchildren and it will matter to them. We can do this. We must!

4 thoughts on “The New Old Normal”

  1. What a thoughtful plea to focus on how to prevent another Texas Winter Disaster!
    We have family in San Antonio who endured like you.
    Our oldest son and his family moved from Minnesota to San Antonio last year to escape the Northern winters. This week, they lost power and experienced cold that they NEVER imagined.
    My brother, a physician in San Antonio, fortunately lives in the same power grid for the local fire station. They NEVER lost power or water.
    So, my advice: buy or rent in a power grid located near a fire station!
    And, the investigation of the failure of the Texas power grid is so important in preventing another “1791 Event of Great Unpleasantness.” The loss of life in Texas due to hypothermia is inexcusable in 21st century of America.
    You are right: we owe a more reliable power grid to our children and grandchildren.

  2. If you liked Texas’s power grid oversight…. You’ll love it’s environmental policies! No ask…No tell….who ya going to call when sludge and fire pour out of the faucet? Coming to a theater near you….

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *