Your Voice

Your Voice: a student reflection on Texas’ recent deep freeze

When I first started commuting to Stockton in my beat-up 2008 Pathfinder, the monitor that controlled the SUV’s HVAC system was fried; making my winters especially cold and my summers painfully hot. The elements can be especially brutal without the power to combat them, and they have recently devastated those without power in Texas. As community engagement and civic responsibility are some of our core values at Stockton university, I would like to draw attention to this issue and the dangers it presents to fellow inhabitants in this country. 

 A historic storm crippled the Southern state with an onslaught of ice and snow, leaving its uniquely independent power grid unable to meet the massive energy demand as residents cranked up their heaters. From a combination of increased demand and production issues, the grid was reaching critical capacity; thus rolling blackouts were implemented by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to supposedly prevent a complete blackout. Many have attempted to falsely attribute the subpar energy supply to renewable sources like wind turbines, however frozen gas lines and other non-renewable sources show much greater implication in this dilemma. With blackouts being longer than expected, ERCOT claims that damaged equipment, necessary manual overrides, and large facilities choosing to go offline may contribute to the increased energy crisis. 

Notably, this crisis most strongly affected disadvantaged Texans. Critical structures and businesses in the cities had more access to the dwindling power supply, along with the homes around them. This left those outside of these locales to face the brunt of the energy shortage. This was compounded with the fact that marginalized communities, including those of Black and Latino inhabitants, tend to have poorer infrastructure, lack of resources, and occupations that were disrupted by the storm, as reported by various major news outlets. It is no secret that there are socioeconomic factors that are increasing the struggles of these groups, and many families shivered through the days with little food, water, heat, or healthcare while they watched city skylines still ablaze. 

The snowball effect best describes this situation in the lone star state. For decades the aforementioned necessities have been harder to maintain in communities of color due to racial and economic segregation. These issues, which have been unresolved for years, made the impact of the storm far worse for those less affluent. Parents watched their children go cold, hungry, and hurting for days. People were freezing to death in their own homes, and others fell victim to carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to huddle in their cars for warmth. Those without homes had very little support from public sectors to find heat and other resources, and the death toll of Texans is still rising steeply in the aftermath of this catastrophic event. Inexcusably, Texan officials left citizens to fend for themselves, as senator Ted Cruz traveled to Cancun while people struggled to survive. 

But this is an issue halfway across the nation, what does it have to do with us here? 

As I mentioned previously, huge factors at play in this catastrophe were the unresolved systemic and infrastructure issues from decades past. In the 2016 Infrastructure Report Card, New Jersey ranked poorly in the systems similar to those affected in Texas, namely regarding drinking water and energy. As of last year, the drinking water crisis in Jersey has only worsened as residents in Newark and other densely populated areas faced burst pipes and unsafe levels of contaminants. After the shutdown of Oyster Creek’s nuclear plant, NJ has dedicated more resources to develop natural gas sources of energy but it still struggles in meeting energy demand and replacing poor infrastructure.

These issues disproportionately affect marginalized communities in the state just as in Texas, and it can spell similar disaster for our home state, leaving more helpless Americans cold and defenseless in the future. It is our responsibility to remedy these issues, and to hold our governing bodies accountable for the dangers to the citizens they serve. Every time I think about the horror of this situation in Texas, I remember the chill in my fingers and the wisps of my breath rising in the air of that rundown old Pathfinder, and I am heartbroken to think of all those people who are cold and suffering down South. Many more may come to suffer similarly, right here at home, if these issues are not brought to light and rectified.

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