Texas: A state of denial
climate change is gonna mess with Texas
When Sen. Ted Cruz says something dumb about climate change, it’s not surprising, it’s Saturday. We expect politicians like him to make silly statements that contradict well-established science.
But things are both less expected and more serious when these statements come from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Unlike Sen. Cruz, ERCOT isn’t in the business of debasing itself to get votes or other political theater. They are tasked with the vital job of keeping Texas’ power grid running. So, when they make statements about climate change that echo the same dismissive attitude, it should grab your attention.
ERCOT and climate change
Let’s begin with something everyone knows: ERCOT has an iffy relationship with the reality of climate change. They do not incorporate climate change into their projections of future demand, which seems weird. Even if you don’t believe it’s caused by humans, it’s inarguable that Texas is warming and, with warming comes increased demand.
They don’t really have a good excuse for ignoring climate change. After the 2021 blackout during Winter Storm Uri, Texas Monthly interviewed the ERCOT CEO and asked if they take climate change into account when predicting extreme weather events:
“We don’t have any climate specialists on staff” is a peculiar response. ERCOT is a $200 million per year operation and could easily hire an entire team of climate experts if they wanted to. The only interpretation of this response is that ERCOT intentionally avoids factoring climate change into their grid operations.
Moving to climate denial
With this background, no one should be surprised to see ERCOT move into straight up climate denial. Here’s a slide from a recent ERCOT presentation:
If they read The Climate Brink (and they should), or talk to any actual climate scientists, or, even better, hire some, they would know that it’s not the Hunga Tonga eruption. Changes in solar output might indeed be contributing a very small fraction of the warming of 2023, maybe a few hundredths of a degree. And, as I wrote here, the El Niño is probably responsible for a significant fraction of the extreme warmth of 2023.
But what are they not mentioning? Yes, global warming. In 2023, if you’re explaining why a year is so hot and fail to mention climate change — that's climate denial.
Why does ERCOT do this, you ask? ERCOT is simply currying favor with those at the helm of Texan politics. By channeling climate change deniers, they align themselves with State leaders who view even the most basic acknowledgment of climate change science as anathema to their political agenda.
This stance may be politically expedient, but it’s terrible for the citizens of Texas. In an era where the impacts of climate change are increasingly undeniable, ERCOT’s reluctance to employ climate scientists or integrate climate science into their operational strategies reduces the reliability of the grid. And they’re not fooling anyone — it’s 100% crystal clear that they’re prioritizing political posturing over grid resilience.
Denying and ignoring the existence of climate change is not the only area where ERCOT is fact challenged. ERCOT has also repeatedly tried to blame renewables for power crises.
In reality, when the Texas grid has problems, it’s never renewables’ fault. It wasn’t renewables’ fault in Dec. of 1989 or Feb. of 2011, when the problem was lack of winterization of thermal power plants. Nor was it the fault in Feb. of 2021 when — shocker — it was once again the lack of winterization that led to the collapse of the natural gas system and to the nearly state-wide blackout that killed about 1,000 Texas. Nor was it to blame for the numerous near-blackouts since then (see this or this or this).
In a similar vein to denying climate change, ERCOT’s actions seem to be nothing more than an attempt to appease powerful politicians. They must be aware that their stance lacks credibility, yet in the present political environment, the absurdity of behavior like this becomes normalized.
It’s not just power, it’s also water
This trend of disregarding scientific evidence to gain political favor isn’t limited to ERCOT; it also influences other vital institutions, such as the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).
The TWDB’s primary objective is to “lead the state’s efforts in ensuring a secure water future for Texas” and they put out State Water Plans every five years. Given that climate change is set to profoundly affect water resources, it’s logical to assume that the TWDB analyzes the impact of climate change in their planning. Regrettably, the reality is the opposite.
For example, in the 2022 State Water Plan, here is the only occurrence of the term “climate change” in 200+ pages:
That’s it. No joke.
The word “climate” appears seven times in the text of the document and the term “climate variability” appears twice.
This is not the message scientists are conveying. As the recent National Climate Assessment said, “Climate change will continue to cause profound changes in the water cycle, increasing the risk of flooding, drought, and degraded water supplies for both people and ecosystems.”
The lack of any recognition of climate change’s impacts on water availability is a profound failure of the TWDB. Ultimately, it is the citizens of Texas that will suffer.
Don’t mess with
Texas the climate
The pattern here is clear: vital institutions like ERCOT and the TWDB seem unwilling to incorporate scientific evidence into their planning because it conflicts with the politics of those in power. This is dangerous and short-sighted. Climatologists warn of clear threats to Texas’ water supply, energy grid, agriculture, and economy if emissions continue unchecked. By burying their heads in the sand, these agencies fail to protect Texans. We must demand better from our leaders and institutions because the future survival of our State depends on it.
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Update: I did an interview with KXAN in Austin on this issue