Saturday, March 6, 2021

The costs of loss and prevention from the Texas polar vortex blackout from Vox and Business Insider

I emphasized the science in The connections among climate change, the wobbling jet stream, and the polar vortex explained by PBS Terra and CBS News over the technological, economic, and human costs of the record-setting cold and snow last month. It's time to reverse the emphasis, starting with Texas's power disaster is a warning sign for the US, which Vox uploaded the day before yesterday.

America's power grid is not ready.
In February, extreme cold and an unusual winter storm left millions of Texans in the dark. Many went without power or water, in subzero temperatures, for nearly five days. It was a disaster; dozens died. But even though that storm hit much of the country, the power outages were mostly limited to Texas. That’s because Texas is on its own electrical grid, separate from the rest of the country, which means it can’t easily get power from other states in an emergency.

But Texas's grid itself is not what failed. Power went out across Texas in the first place because energy sources across the state were unprepared for severe weather. And that didn’t have to happen; Texas had been warned about this exact scenario, and had actually experienced versions of it twice in the last 30 years. But they didn’t prepare.

Now the rest of the US faces the same issue. Climate change is making severe weather disasters more and more frequent. And the American energy system is not ready for it.
Vox examined both well even as they reversed the emphasis by featuring how government and industry managed the technology of the electrical grid over the weather event and climate change that exposed its flaws. The report also pointed out that Texas serves as a warning to the rest of the country.

Business Insider looked more at the human and economic cost when it explained Why The Texas Polar Vortex Is So Expensive.

The Texas winter storm is expected to be the most expensive weather event in the state’s history, costing insurers over $20 billion. Why are Texans paying the price for the polar vortex?
This looks like a case where an ounce of prevention would have saved a pound of cure. I'm also wondering if it counts as an externality, "a cost or benefit that is imposed on a third party who did not agree to incur that cost or benefit" and "any difference between the private cost of an action or decision to an economic agent and the social cost." It probably is, although I am neither an economist nor a lawyer, both of whom should be consulted to see if the $20 billion dollar price tag qualifies and to whom.

When I write about blackouts, I usually reference the 2003 blackout in the northeastern U.S. and adjacent parts of Canada. In large part, that's because I ask my students about it in the worksheet for "The End of Suburbia." Now that I've relegated that movie and its associated worksheets to extra credit, I may have to look for newer resources about more recent events, like the blackout and associated death and damage from the Texas blackout. In the meantime, stay tuned for the Sunday entertainment feature.

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