As a native Texan, I never felt anxious about winter. On the contrary, winter has always meant celebrating the holidays and getting well-deserved breaks from work and school. Not to mention the tantalizing start to a new year and the occasional cold front that reminded us to be grateful for the more moderate temperatures year-round.
That is, until last winter when we saw a historic winter freeze – yet another sign of the growing climate crisis – which killed nearly 250 Texans, shut down our state and tested the competence and readiness of climate deniers leading our state government. For more than a week last February, we endured freezing temperatures resulting in power outages, boil water advisories lasting weeks in some cases, and broken pipes and house fires that plunged families and homeless neighbors, many seeking safety and warmth in their cars.
And yet, while there is no shortage of anticipatory talk surrounding Winter Storm Landon, and a repeat of last year is to be expected, the most glaring question of all remains: what the hell have our elected officials done in the Texas since witnessing the devastation of last year’s freeze to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Much like a scene from Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” the truth is that Governor Abbott and other Republicans prioritized political games and culture wars above safety and preparedness. Texans in the midst of our new apocalyptic climate reality. While I had hoped last winter’s freeze disaster would spur statewide action to focus on issues affecting Texans every day — like bolstering the power grid or expanding access to health care – this has not been the case. Instead, Governor Abbott and his Republican allies continue to willfully put Texas lives on the line in an effort to prioritize their anti-immigrant and xenophobic agenda, mirroring their disastrous handling of the pandemic.
In 2021, the Texas Legislature met from January through May for the regular legislative session, then July through October for three additional special sessions called by Governor Abbott. During these eight months of legislative meetings, Republicans have focused on attacking immigrants and other vulnerable groups, while ignoring much-needed reforms to temper our energy infrastructure.
During last year’s freezing winter, Governor Abbott treated the real climate crisis as a joke and instead invented a crisis about our border for his own political gain. Texans like me watched it falsely blamed wind turbines and frozen solar panels for the power outages that left us cold and dark and downplayed the true severity of the climate catastrophe we were facing. Yet in May, a few months later, Governor Abbott strongly issued a declaration of unwarranted disaster to help fund the border wall. Governor Abbott’s anti-immigrant scare campaigns and false claims of a ‘border crisis’ have resulted in $250 million in Texan taxpayer dollars being wasted on greater militarization of borders it is neither wanted nor needed by Texans. Let’s be clear: Abbott’s anti-immigrant statements are nothing more than political theater.
Although dull and insufficient regulations were made to the power grid, Abbott happily signed an agreement of nearly $2 billion bill in September to triple funding for border wall construction and assign more agents to terrorize the area. The bill sought to align the Texas legislature with Abbott’s efforts to scapegoat and incarcerate immigrants exercising their legal right to seek asylum in the United States. After months of this political theater, more and more people are to acknowledge that Abbott’s campaign of persecution against immigrants was not only unnecessary, but dangerous; and nothing more than an attempt to deflect anger and channel violence towards immigrants and asylum seekers.
In fact, following the many legislative sessions in which the Republican-led executive and legislative branches of Texas have refused to pass serious legislation to address the shortcomings of our electric grid, the energy industry reward Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick with generous campaign donations.
Since Thursday, at least 70,000 Texans have experienced blackouts. While Republicans will present this as a success over last year, winter isn’t over yet and the truth is, leaving a single Texan without access to electricity and heat is a failure. We shouldn’t have to live in constant fear that a defunct government will allow hundreds of preventable deaths in order to maintain political power. Anything less than complete disaster should not be the standard by which our government officials consider success. We are tired of Governor Abbott’s efforts to pit Texans against each other through his anti-immigrant hate and lies. He let down all Texans and once again proved his inability to keep our best interests in mind.
Juan José Martinez-Guevara is a DACA recipient and Texas Advocacy Associate of United We Dream. They have been living in Texas for 21 year.