Texas Freezes Over: Cowboy Capitalism, Big Oil’s Spin Machine and Mutual Aid

cross-posted from Medium

by Scott Parkin

Two weeks ago, a polar vortex hit my home state of Texas. The heating Arctic pushed cold air far south and temperatures plummeted below freezing. In a state that has been hit by hurricanes, drought and wildfires, the climate crisis coming home to roost in one of the most pro-oil and gas states in the country is nothing out of the ordinary. Despite decades of dealing with the aftermath of these climate disasters, the notoriously libertarian state fails at providing for the needs of its residents over and over. But a polar vortex hitting Texas was completely new and it’s leadership even more unprepared for the disaster.

Gas and coal-fired power plants lacking winterization had their facilities freeze and shut down. In a state of 29 million, this led to over four and a half million people without power in frigid weather. Residents living in homes built for the tropics shivered in the dark. Some froze to death. The next phase of the disaster had more than twelve million Texans lose their water or put under “boil advisories,” (which means you have to boil your tap water before you drink it.) More than 130 of the state’s 254 counties were experiencing water outages or potential contamination, and more than 250,000 residents had not had water service for three days, according to state data. Some still don’t have water.

At last count, over one hundred people have perished from the Texas freeze.

Along with the overarching climate crisis that gets worse every year, the libertarian “the market will provide” Republican politics of today is the root of this month’s humanitarian disaster in Texas. The U.S. has three energy grids — one in the west, one in the east and one in Texas. Texas is notorious for its deregulated energy grid. In the mid-1930’s, Texas oil men had an aversion to being part of a federal power grid, so they pursued energy systems that eventually led to the state’s electricity being governed by Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. ( ERCOT).

In 2011, another unseasonal blizzard led to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported that winterizing of the power grid was necessary. ERCOT didn’t require the winterization as “mandatory” to the private energy companies. Of course, the companies were too busy making huge profits to “volunteer” to winterize their operations, as my co-host Prof Bob Buzzanco pointed out. Even worse, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointees to the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas wreaked havoc on oversight of Texas utilities. In July 2020, they disbanded the PUC’s Oversight and Enforcement Division dropping pending cases to unsure reliability. In November 2020, they ended a contract with the Texas Reliability Entity which reduced oversight of the power grid. After this months crisis, five members of the ERCOT board resigned. All five lived out of state.

The Rand Paul free market fundamentalism grift, promoted by the Republican Party and the fossil sector, is one part of our modern phenomenon of disasters. The other is their decade’s long promotion of denial that a heating Arctic causes climate change, polar vortexes and hurricanes. This allows our society to continue to be run on fossil fuels.

The response of Texas Republican politicians (you know, those in power at most levels of state government) has been what we’ve come to expect from Republicans in the age of Trump.

The most honest has been from the Mayor (now former Mayor) Tim Boyd of Colorado City in West Texas. In the midst of the crisis when the residents of Colorado City were without power, water and heat, Boyd posted on Facebook that “only the strong survive and the weak will [perish].” He went on, “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout.” He then abruptly resigned his office.

A number of Republican politician decided that it was a good moment to start a GOP “Texodus.” Senator “Flyin’” Ted Cruz hopped a plane for a family vacation at a luxurious resort in Cancun, Mexico. Once the story hit social media and then the mainstream press, Cruz came home, saying he’d only left town because his kids asked him too. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton left the week for Utah. Paxton tweeted he needed to be in Utah for an in-person law enforcement demonstration and to meet with Utah’s attorney general. Upon his return, he didn’t respond to press inquiries about holding ERCOT responsible for power failures. State rep. Gary Gates (R- Ft. Bend) took his private jet for a family getaway in Orland, FL after the family’s pipes burst. Sadly, none of his neighbors or the millions of other Texans with burst pipes got an invitation.

But the more important Republican responses has been the public relations offensive in the defense of their deregulatory practices.

Their first wave of attack was against green energy. Internet rumors circulated that the rolling power outages were a result of “frozen wind turbines.” While some turbines froze without proper de-icing materials (another result of the lack of winterizing by state regulatory agencies), less than 15% of Texas electricity comes from wind power. Instead what froze and caused the power outages was the more than 80% of Texas power coming from gas, coal and nuclear power.

For what it’s worth, the images circulated in the rapid response disinformation campaign turned out to be frozen wind turbines in Sweden from 2013.

Next, Greg Abbott appeared on Fox News promoting the failure of clean energy and then followed up with the lie “this shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.” By the way, the Green New Deal has never actually been up for a vote in Congress. After that, Perry double-downed with anti-government rhetoric saying that Texans sitting at home in the freezing dark to keep the federal government out of their business. And, of course, Senator John Cornyn followed up saying that Texas should “trust the free market.”

Climate campaigner Jamie Henn of Fossil Free Media recently told the podcast that I co-host, the Green and Red Podcast, that this is a normal playbook put out by Big Oil’s spin machine.

At the same time, the fossil fuel sector is making a “jackpot.” Natural gas companies have announced record profits with spiking gas prices as demand has far exceeded supply. Billionaire owner of the Dallas Cowboys Jerry Jones owns 75% majority of shale driller Comstock Resources and will be a major beneficiary of the crippling Texas winter. At the same time, ordinary Texans are getting exorbitant electricity bills. The New York Times reported that Scott Willaboughy, a retired army vet in the Dallas area living on social security, received a montly bill of $16,752. Not only were people left alone freezing in the dark, they are also now on the wrong end of the class divide. Furthermore, this is all designed to keep a greedy few wealthy and out of reach of any accountability from the rest of us.

In the wake of the Texas freeze and power outages, mutual aid networks across the state have sprung into action. In the state’s capitol, networks strengthened during the pandemic and George Floyd uprisings are canvassing East Austin neighborhoods asking what residents and elders need. At this point, according to Austin organizer Debbie Russell, the city government takes cues from the mutual aid networks at this point. Volunteer networks of anarchists, Beto O’Rourke supporters, Black Lives Matter protesters and other left-liberal types in Texas are distributing food and warm clothes, finding shelter for the houseless and making sure elders are safe. Socialist foil to the far right Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has raised millions and traveled to Ted Cruz’s hometown of Houston to work at a local food bank.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Louisiana coast in 2005, the first disaster came from the climate enhanced storm. Next, government deregulation failed New Orleans by leaving inadequate levees to stop floods. After that, came from the government’s inability to muster disaster relief. In Texas, it’s been Hurricane Katrina at a Texas sized scale. First, a climate enhanced polar vortex swept into the region. Next, deregulated oversight and power operations failed to maintain the electric grid. After that, Texas officials failed to muster disaster relief. Millions were left without power and water in a polar vortex. The winter weather in Texas may be over, but the underlying issues of the crisis still remain.

Mass Climate Protest Disrupts NYC Financial District — Hundreds Risk Arrest

Thousands Flood Wall Street With Mass Sit-In for Climate Justice

For immediate release:

Thousands ‘Flood’ Financial District Following Sunday’s Historic March

Interviews available upon requests

Photos available here

New York, NY — 3,000 people dressed in blue are currently between Exchange Place and The Bull in Manhattan’s financial district, sitting down to interrupt the business day and targeting corporations and businesses financing and fueling the climate crisis.

“Communities that are first and most impacted by storms, floods and droughts are also on the frontlines of fighting the dig-burn-dump economy causing climate change,” said Michael Leon Guerrero of the Climate Justice Alliance. “We are flooding Wall Street to stop its financing of planetary destruction, and to make way for living economies that benefit people and the planet.”

“Many of us were also involved with Occupy Wall Street,” said Michael Premo, an organizer of Flood Wall Street and a Brooklyn-based artist. “Just like the financial crisis, the climate crisis is a product of an underlying political crisis. It’s the result of policies that serve the shortsighted interests of the few over the survival and well being of everyone.”

Yesterday’s historic 400,000-person march showed widespread support for action on climate change, and Flood Wall Street is confronting those who stand in the way of change and connecting the climate movement with a long tradition of nonviolent direct action.

“Throughout history, people have engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience in response to moral crises, when political leaders have failed to act,” said Vida James, a Flood Wall Street organizer. “What could constitute more of a moral crisis than the health and survival of our planet, our communities, and our grandchildren?”

Art, music, and giant visuals are prominent features of the festive demonstration, beginning the day with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a local activist marching band. Nearly a hundred people carried a 300-foot banner that read: “Capitalism = Climate Chaos — Flood Wall Street,” among many other visuals.

The day began with speakers from around the world that have been impacted by climate change, emphasizing that leadership on climate justice must come from below.

“The real solution to global warming is organizing workers worldwide for the construction of a new model, with justice, equality and respect for life,” said Elisa Estronioli, a Brazilian land-rights activist.

More updates coming.

September 22, 2014
Phone: (406) 356-6316

Climate Movement, Meet Global Capitalism. Global Capitalism, meet the Climate Movement. On the G20 and the fight for Climate Justice

Climate Movement, Meet Global Capitalism. Global Capitalism, meet the Climate Movement. On the G20 and the fight for Climate Justice

By Rising Tide

“Oceans turn increasingly acidic, wiping out calcareous plankton and further hitting surviving coral reefs-much of the marine food chain endangered. One summer in every two has heat waves as strong as the 2003 disaster in Europe, when 30,000 died. Drought, fire and searing heat strikes the Mediterranean basin. Greenland tips into irreversible ice melt, accelerating sea-level rise and threatening coastal cities around the world. Hundreds of millions live in peril of the rising seas. Polar bears, walrus and other ice-dependent marine mammals extinct in the Arctic. Glaciers in Peru disappear, threatening the water supplies to Lima. Declining snowfields also threaten water supplies. A third of species worldwide face extinction as the climate changes-the worst mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs.”

This rather rosy scenario painted by author Mark Lynas is the reality we can expect to inhabit if the planet heats another 3.6 F degrees. Doesn’t’ sound like much fun, does it? Well unfortunately for us, 3.6 F also happens to be the degree to which our benevolent leaders at the G8 decided is ok to allow our world to heat up. Last month with much fanfare and backslapping the world’s 7 richest nations (plus Russia), who not coincidentally are responsible for the lion’s share of global emissions, set the bar for the collateral damage they are willing to accept in order to preserve their economic stranglehold on our planet.

On Sept 24 and 25th the G20, an outgrowth of the G8, will be meeting in Pittsburgh in an attempt to salvage this global economic order. The G20 includes all the G8 countries plus the next twelve largest economies and “emerging economies.” The G20 countries account for 80% of the world’s global gross national product. Many of the G8 leaders remarked at this year’s summit that it is becoming irrelevant, and that the G20 is where the real decisions will be made. Before this year’s G8 summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “I think the G20 should be the format that, like an overarching roof, makes decisions about the future.” While the G20 summit in Pittsburgh is largely focused on pumping some blood back into global capitalism, we cannot afford to overlook how the abstract world of global finance has very real world affects when it comes to climate and justice.

CLIMATE CHANGE THE BIGGEST LOSER OF G20 SUMMIT. That was what one headline read in the Guardian newspaper after this spring’s G20 summit in London. As part of the G20’s plan to revive the global economy, member nations have pledged over 1 trillion dollars. The question of course is where does this money go to? There’s not much info out there, but we know that car manufacturers, not exactly a low carbon industry, are getting a piece of the pie. In addition a good chunk of the money is earmarked for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and assorted regional development banks, none of which have a very clean record when it comes to energy policies. From 1994 to 2003 the World Bank spent over $24.8 billion on fossil fuel projects. Meanwhile the IMF is well known for lending money to countries on the condition that they pay off the loans by upping resource extraction, including fossil fuels, and industrial scale logging. While the final communiqué from the London summit made vague references to sustainable development and green economies, there were no concrete commitments that the money was going to anything other than business as usual.

If you liked sub-prime, then you’ll love carbon trading

When it really comes down to it though, the numbers and figures don’t matter as much as the big picture. The G20 stands for free market capitalism and it is clear that any policies they develop will be designed by the “free hand” of the market. When it comes to climate policy this translates to carbon trading.

At the heart of carbon trading is the idea that “the market” is the best and most efficient means by which to solve the climate crisis. To do this, carbon is turned into a commodity to be bought and sold on the international market. Companies are allotted a certain amount of carbon credits which translates into the amount of carbon they can emit into the atmosphere. If they emit more carbon than they are allotted, no problem. Just buy some credits off another company that didn’t use all theirs, or better yet, “offset” the emissions by funding a Clean Development Country in some poor southern country.

Under the carbon trading regime companies like Duke Energy could get away with building a carbon intensive plant such as Cliffside by paying for thousands of homes in South Africa to install compact fluorescent light bulbs. Or to use a real world example, a European company was allowed to offset its emissions by funding a wind project in Colombia. The only problem was that an entire indigenous community was evicted from their land, resulting in up to 200 being killed. And to add insult to injury, the electricity from the windmills primarily powers one of the largest coal mines in the world! Somehow the math just doesn’t add up.

Carbon trading regimes have so many loopholes for companies to get around actually reducing their emissions that they have yet to do anything to slow warming. Both the Kyoto Protocol and the EU Emissions Trading Systems have both resulted in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time bringing in record profits for some of the worst climate criminals. Not only does carbon trading create additional social and environmental problems, it simply doesn’t work.

The deregulated, market-obsessed economics that have dominated the political agenda of recent decades are widely seen to have failed, yet governments around the world are still making futile attempts to apply the same failed market logic to the problem of climate change.

Maintaining control

Earlier this summer up to 100 indigenous people in Peru were massacred for resisting a free trade agreement with the US. As part of the Peru-US free trade agreement, Peru agreed to repeal several laws including parts of the constitution that had protected indigenous people’s traditional lands in the Amazon from resource exploitation, in particular oil and gas. Basically the US promised favorable trade conditions with Peru in exchange for, among other things, unfettered access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

In response to this assault on indigenous sovereignty and the Amazon rainforest, indigenous people and supporters staged nationwide strikes, shutting down much of Peru’s critical infrastructure including roads, railways, and oil installations. The Peruvian government, not one to shy away from violence, sent in troops to break up the blockades often times opening fire on the unarmed crowds. Governments will stop at nothing to ensure the smooth flow of capital.

While the US-Peru free trade agreement is not an official policy of the G20, it is a fine example of the types of conflicts that will continue to emerge if the G20 are successful in pushing their free market agenda. A key function of entities such as the G20 is to open new markets to corporate exploitation by breaking down trade barriers and forcing countries to sell off their natural resources in exchange for financial aid. The $1.06 billion that was pledged at the London G-20 summit will not come without its conditions on primarily poor countries to open their doors to corporate exploitation, or as they call it, foreign investment.

Of particular interest for those of us wanting to avert a global climate meltdown is the fact that as fossil fuels become increasingly scarce “economic harmonization” and free trade agreements will become ever more important for rich countries to ensure an uninterrupted, cheap supply of carbon intensive fuels. The G20 is one such mechanism by which corporations and governments ensure the smooth flow of global capital and maintain their control over resources and peoples.

Our climate is not your business

As has been pointed out by others, it is absurd to say that we are fighting climate change. To say we are fighting climate change is to say we are fighting the Earth’s natural processes. Climate change is the natural and long predicted outcome of a society burning fossil fuels and destroying natural ecosystems in order to maintain an economy that’s central tenet is never ending expansion and growth. We are not fighting climate change, we are fighting this economic system that puts profits and production above all else.

On April 1st in London when the G20 last met, tens of thousands of people flooded the financial district to resist the policies of the G20. A Climate Camp was set up in the epicenter of global capital under banners reading, “Nature doesn’t do bail outs” and “Our climate is not your business.” Several banks responsible for waves of evictions and disappearing pensions in Britain were ransacked and one of the world’s largest financial centers was effectively shut down by a coalition of groups fighting for economic and environmental justice.

As we round the corner to the Pittsburg summit a promising coalition of anti-capitalist, indigenous, anti-war, climate justice, economic justice, and anti-authoritarian groups are coming together to let the G20 know that our world is not for sale. In addition to marches and direct actions that are in the works, groups including the Mobilization for Climate Justice are organizing a climate camp in Pittsburgh to coincide with the G20 meetings. The climate camp will be a place to come together, learn, share skills, and plan actions.

“The Earth is not dying, it is being killed and the people killing it have names and addresses.” –Utah Phillips

On September 24 and 25th 20 such people (and more than a few of their lackey’s) will be residing at: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. No need to phone ahead, they know we’re coming.

For more info check out: