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The Texas freeze and subsequent blackouts have given the Biden administration the chance to show the country how it will handle natural disasters, and they’ve already done one thing much differently than the Trump administration: acknowledged the role of climate change. On Thursday, the administration pledged the “full support of the federal government.” White House Homeland Security advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall said in a press briefing that “climate change is real and it’s happening now, and we’re not adequately prepared for it.” And now, due to surge pricing, Texans are facing utility bills in the thousands of dollars for what little heat they got.
Why This Matters: The Biden administration wasted no time declaring an emergency and stating it would review preparation for future storms. As Monica pointed out in an op/ed over the weekend in USA Today, weather forecasters had been sounding the alarm about the coming “polar vortex” freeze for weeks — and Texas had experienced one before in 2010-11. This was not a black swan event, as some claimed, there had been many similar deep freezes over the past decade. But without knowing how much any particular city or state was at risk for the next polar vortex, it was hard to be totally prepared, in truth. She argued that we must begin to improve our ability to predicting these extreme events well ahead of time so that we have a much better understanding of where the risks are the highest in the first place and prepare where we need it most.
Trump administration Denial Contributed To Setbacks
The Trump administration’s disinformation and apathy set the nation’s climate preparation efforts back, and although the Biden administration has set broad policy goals to put it back on track, it must also regain the trust of the people. The White House’s decision to make a statement of this nature is just the beginning of rebuilding the relationship between the federal government and the victims of disasters like these.
By contrast, in 2020, when Trump was told by experts that the record-breaking wildfires that ravaged the west coast last summer were caused in part by climate change. During the exchange, he insisted that “it will start getting cooler, just you watch,” and “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
The Science Knows
Many scientists say that warming temperatures in the Arctic could be responsible for the Texas deep freeze. As warm air moves into the Arctic, cold air moves further southward, lengthening the jet stream and delivering snow and ice to southern regions. University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd told USA Today that “there is evidence that climate change can weaken the polar vortex, which allows more chances for frigid Arctic air to ooze into the Lower 48.” Sherwood-Randall said the White House sides with the science, and acknowledged that recovery isn’t enough, “we know that we can’t just react to extreme weather events. We actually need to plan for them and prepare” for the “full spectrum of challenges that we’re likely to face in the future.”
President Biden is likely to visit Texas later this week, but in the meantime, they have declared a disaster and FEMA has a website where people can apply for assistance if their damages are not covered by insurance. The President “has directed his team to make rapid decisions and to be responsive to the specific needs of the states as they come up during this difficult time,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. Psaki also said that the administration is dedicated to ensuring that vaccine distribution in affected regions is “as stable and equitable as possible.”
To Go Deeper: Read Monica’s Op-Ed entitled “Repeated climate disasters do not have to be our destiny” here.
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