News You May Have Missed: February 21, 2021

“Jack Frost” by orangeacid is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


1. Miles and Miles of (Frozen) Texas

How does the climate crisis connect to icy weather in Texas and other places? We talk about “global warming,” but “warming” is complicated. As parts of the Arctic warm (warmth in the Arctic is still cold!), more extreme weather elsewhere–including freezing weather–can follow, as an explainer by Vox clarifies. Due to what one scientist called a “meandering jet stream,” caused by the warming, colder Arctic air can whoosh south. A 2018 study in Nature Communications describes these dynamics well. Though these conclusions are controversial, that more extreme weather events of all kinds are on their way–and that governments at all levels need to improve their infrastructure–is not in dispute.

Without reprising the news you won’t have missed, we want to note how this event–like all profound environmental and economic events–encapsulates the many tensions that surround us. 

◉The power outages hit lower-income people the hardest, especially Black and Brown people, as environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard told Democracy Now, along with elderly people and people without mobility.  “If you have a generator that’s pumping in your backyard, or if you have a credit card and can drive to a hotel and wait it out, your hurt and pain may be less than those who feel the hurt and pain first, worst and longest.” In part the impacts have to do with toxic waste that was released by the failing plants, and the way that polluting sites are often located in Black and Latinx neighborhoods.

◉The outages also hit incarcerated people–including detained immigrants–extremely hard, as the story below explains.

◉The ideological commitment to deregulation–and to independence from the North American grids–in part led to this disaster, as the New York Times explains. Hence, the power companies had no reserves and no incentives to invest in more robust systems, as Reuters notes. 

◉Being part of an integrated grid is not an automatic solution–the power outage that overran the Northeast in 2003 meant that a small error in Ohio caused power to go out all over Ontario, as the US-Canada Power System Outage Task Force explains. Planning is still essential, and deregulation is a recipe for disaster.

◉The predatory corporations that did not plan for unusual weather events also sold customers on variable-rate plans–so some are looking at electricity bills of $5,000,  points out the Dallas Morning News, with at least one user reporting a bill of $16,700, according to the New York Times.

◉The absence of planning on multiple levels has led to untold suffering. This storm had been anticipated for days before it hit. But the power companies had taken several power plants off-line for maintenance; the equipment was long overdue for maintenance, and the pumps for natural gas to produce electricity froze, as the Guardian points out. Like the fires in California last summer, the power outages in Texas this week illustrate how essential it is to plan.

◉Not only was planning inadequate but communication was absent. The Governor told people to Google information, according to the Texas Monthlypeople whose power and internet were out.

As serious as the situation has been in Texas and elsewhere, some extraordinary efforts also highlight what people can do for each other. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others raised over four million dollars by February 20 for food, housing and elder-care assistance, according to NPR. Beto O’Rourke has been organizing relief efforts all over Texas–raising funds, arranging for water deliveries, organizing a massive group of teams to do door-to-door welfare checks. RLS

Vox has a list of places to get help and places donate to Texans. The Austin Disaster Relief Network is organizing efforts in that community. CBS has a list of ways to offer help and MoveOn is raising funds for the Workers Defense Emergency Project.

2. Prisoners, too, lack water and heat

The current freezing temperatures in Texas are hurting a broad swath of people who are essentially helpless in the face of unstable, unregulated power. Among these people are detained asylum seekers, prisoners, and Reality Winner, who is still serving time for having the courage to reveal foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Detainees at the Pearsall facility, located outside San Antonio, told RAICES, a support organization, that guards threw away their blankets when they complained about the cold, the Intercept reported. Inmates at the federal prison in Fort Worth including the Federal Medical Center Carswell, have been donning rubber gloves to scoop feces out of overflowing toilets, which stopped working because of the lack of water resulting from the freeze, so they can be disposed of in other manners. A Bureau of Prisons statement has claimed the inconveniences were minor, but reporting in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram substantiates claims of ongoing cold and water issues that are significantly more than “minor.” S-HP

You can demand immediate action to mitigate inhumane conditions in Texas prisons and detention centers, urge President Biden (@JoeBiden), the Department of Homeland Security (@AliMayorkas) and the Department of Justice (@michaelcarvajal) to take action now to do the infrastructure work needed to prevent a repeat of these conditions, and call for a presidential pardon for Winner. Addresses are here.

3. Asylum-seekers in “extreme circumstances” being admitted to the US; asylum-seekers in Montamoros dealing with extreme conditions

Asylum-seekers in “extreme circumstances” are being admitted to the US to wait for their hearings; the previous administration required a woman with Stage 3 breast cancer, a deaf man who could not navigate the system, and others in need of medical care to wait in tent camps over the border in Mexico. However, with the cold weather and power outages, conditions in the camps in Matamoros have become even more extreme. They were already difficult, as the NY Times reported in October–dirty and dangerous for women, with respiratory illnesses rampant in the close quarters. Now, though, with the power outages, the heaters they have do not work and the water supply is frozen. As a nurse practitioner told the Dallas News, “There is a real concern for frostbite, hyperthermia. With people anticipating that Friday is going to open to MPP crossings, people don’t want to move to a shelter with a roof. They are afraid they will lose their spot in the MPP line.” RLS

To assist those waiting for hearings in the tent camps, you can donate to various organizations on site: Team Brownsville, Angry Tias and Abuelas, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Global Response Matamoros, or Rainbow Bridge (link at the end of the article).

4. No first strike with nuclear weapons.

Ted Lieu (D-CA) has reintroduced H.R. 669, which would restrict the U.S. from first-strike use of nuclear weapons without Congressional authorization. The 2021 version of this legislation does not yet have text available, but the 2019 text is available, and is brief and clear. This legislation is currently with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. Restricting the US from using nuclear weapons first has become increasingly important, given the $100 billion just allocated for a new generation of  intercontinental ballistic missiles, as we explained last week. S-HP

This legislation is currently with the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. You can urge swift, positive committee action on H.R.669: • Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Chair, House Foreign Affairs Committee. @RepGregoryMeeks. • Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair, House Armed Services Committee, @RepAdamSmith. You can check here to see if your Representative is a cosponsor and thank or nudge as appropriate. Find your representative here and full addresses and phone numbers here.

5. Secretary of the Interior nominee Deb Haaland supported by Indigenous groups

If her nomination is confirmed, Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) would become the U.S.’s first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior. At least one Republican Senator, Steve Daines (R-MT), has already pledged his commitment to blocking Haaland’s confirmation. NativeNewOnline reports on opposition to Haaland’s nomination and a campaign by the Global Indigenous Council in support of Haaland. Daines, who receives significant support from the oil and gas industry, characterizes Haaland as “radical” because of her opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, her advocacy for a Green New Deal, and her objection to the danger that camps of male pipeline workers pose for Indigenous women and girls, according to CounterPunch. As one of the letters in support of her nomination puts it, “After Zinke and Bernhardt, it probably is a radical idea to have a Secretary of Interior who will protect public lands and not plunder them. Preserve endangered species and not blow them away to hang as trophies on a wall. Who will uphold the federal-Indian trust responsibility and address the crippling disparities in federal services to Indian Country,” S-HP

The Global Indigenous Council suggests ways to support Haaland by demanding swift, positive action on Haaland’s nomination by the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) and telling your Senator that you want them to support Haaland when her confirmation comes to a vote of the full Senate. Find your senator here.


6. California departs from the CDC in identifying people at risk from severe COVID

As of Sunday, 500,000 Americans had died of COVID, according to NBC News. The Washington Post has a graphic to try to illuminate how many people that is. As the Post wrote, “Carrying all 500,000 people would require a caravan of 9,804 buses that would stretch 94.7 miles. That’s the distance from the White House to Delaware…”

California has taken note of people with a number of conditions that increase the risk of COVID-19 infection and make the possibility of infection particularly life-threatening. This is a positive move, but the list of conditions the state is using is significantly shorter than the CDC’s list of increased risk-factor conditions, which include cancer, COPD, sickle cell disease, and many others. Among the groups not included in the California list are those on immunosuppressant medications and those with asthma. The stakes here are significant: As of March 15, those people who are 16-64 and on California’s list of particularly at-risk people can get the vaccine–but not those on the CDC’s full list, according to the California COVID information site.

Canada includes people who are immuno-compromised or have lung disease–as well as their caregivers–in Phase 2 of the vaccination plan, but glitches in delivery mean that Canada is nowhere near through Phase 1. S-HP

If you are a Californian, consider telling Governor Newsom and your state legislators that you want to see all medical conditions that the CDC considers likely to result in complications from COVID-19 infection included in California’s list for priority vaccination, including people on immunosuppressant drugs and people with asthma. Governor Gavin Newsom, 1303 10th St., Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, (916) 445-2841. @GavinNewsom. Find your CA legislators here.

7. Other preconditions making people more susceptible to COVID

We think of risk factors for COVID as relating to age or pre-existing medical conditions. What also make people more susceptible to COVID and more likely to have long-haul COVID effects are social conditions–being Black or Latinx, living in crowded conditions, doing front-line work, lacking health insurance, dealing with racism in health care, and so forth, according to the Center for Pubic Integrity: “Black Americans have been more likely than whites to test positive for COVID-19, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, almost four times as likely to be hospitalized, and nearly three times as likely to die of the disease,” the Center wrote. Black people may appear to be less likely to have some long-haul symptoms, the Center says, because they less likely to survive in order to report them. RLS

8. The US has rejoined the Paris Accords, but the targets are way too low.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we (both the U.S. and the world) have been falling far short of the emission reduction goals we agreed to when the Paris Accords were signed in 2015. If you have any doubts about that claim, check out the Climate Action Tracker, which provides data on the progress (or lack thereof) in hitting emission reduction goals country by country. According to the Washington Post, new research is now telling us that, even if we were meeting these goals, we would have only a five percent chance of staving off significant warming. In fact, to hit a sustainable climate trajectory, we would need to make emission reductions 80% greater than those called for in the Paris Accords. S-HP

You might remind the President and your elected representatives that we need to be aggressively reducing emissions now and point out that the longer we wait, the more painful and more substantial the necessary reductions will be. President Joe Biden, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Find your senators here. Find your representative here.


Heather Cox Richardson continues to document government policies and practices, putting them in historical context.

The Americans of Conscience Checklist continues to offer clear, effective actions we can take, this week focused on protecting the midterm elections, getting asylum-seekers released and resisting anti-Blackracism.

Moms Rising recommends some important actions for this week focused on preserving Black lives via the Breathe Act, getting counselors rather than cops in schools, ending youth incarceration, and more.