By Steve Valk
Last month, after the polar vortex dipped all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico and plunged Texas into sub-freezing temperatures, CCL volunteers were quick to share their experiences in op-eds and letters to the editor, explaining to readers how our warming planet is connected to the disaster that unfolded in major parts of the country.
Millions of Texans lost electricity and heat and then lost access to water when pipes burst. The catastrophe offered a glimpse of a future where weather extremes like this will become more frequent if we fail to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change. To drive home that message, volunteers throughout the nation shared their personal stories, as Martin Byhower did in a letter to the Austin American-Statesman:
“As I sat trapped in my house during an unprecedented Arctic freeze, I hoped my power wouldn’t fail. I jumped each time an ice-laden branch from my heritage oaks fell onto my roof or in my eerily frozen yard. I worried about my wife driving home from her commute on slick roads in an ice storm… And I wondered whether a nationally renewed validation of science can help facilitate an understanding how arctic warming actually sends polar weather to Texas, with potentially devastating effects.”
In an op-ed published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jenna Hammerich described the tense situation at her farm:
“Here in Iowa, the deep freeze was especially hard for livestock. On our farm, we had to feed our llamas high-energy food to ensure that they made it through the night. Every morning, we’d wake up and run to the barn to make sure they were OK. Then our water hydrant broke, so we carried buckets of water from the house to the barn in the dangerously cold temperatures… It was a very tense time.”
Some of the responses pushed back on inaccurate statements that frozen wind turbines were to blame for power failures in Texas. In the Allentown (PA) Morning Call, Renate Brosky wrote:
“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claimed that the disastrous power outages in his state are proof that fossil fuels are necessary because wind turbines were frozen. The situation is proof that his state’s electricity market and grid are ill prepared to handle extreme weather events. Oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power sources were all compromised by equipment failure.”
In Grand Junction, Colorado, where the polar vortex did not have the same devastating impact as it did in Texas, Aaron Hoffman took the opportunity in his op-ed to lament the changes he’s witnessed in winter weather:
“We are strongly affected by other disruptions in climate that have ‘earned’ Western Colorado the title of ‘climate change hot spot,’ because we’ve already exceeded the 2-degree average temperature rise that the rest of the globe is trying to avoid… Each winter, Facebook Memories taunt us with fun photos of younger versions of our children playing, making snowmen, and even sledding in the snow of winters past… Rainstorms in the winter would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago, yet while Texas started to experience the polar vortex, we were all looking out at a dismal February rain.”
Many of the op-eds were co-written with CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds and delivered a powerful message at the end. By sharing personal stories, CCL volunteers connected with readers in a way that allowed people to hear that message with a greater sense of urgency:
“The extreme weather ravaging our nation should serve as a warning that our climate could one day be unbearable if we fail to take the actions necessary to rein in climate change. An effective price on carbon with money given to households can put us on the path to preserving a livable world.”
Check out additional pieces by CCLers in the Phelps County (MO) Focus, the Dubuque (IA) Telegraph Herald, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the Portland (ME) Press-Herald. If you’d like to publish a piece in your own local newspaper, trainings and resources are available on CCL Community.