The Southern states froze over, and to no one’s surprise, their state governments have only made the situation significantly worse. They have been hit with one of America’s worst weaponized duos –– climate change and environmental racism.
During a time of great panic and uncertainty, when the changing climate created an uncharacteristic winter storm in Texas, the Texas state government decided to abandon their Black and Latinx working class communities. The power went out for over 4 million Texans during the storm. Power companies were worried about not being able to support their consumers’ drastically increasing demand for heat and gas sources, so in order to meet demand, utility companies orchestrated controlled power outages in order to prevent long-term damage to the natural gas industry and power grids. Families were already struggling financially with the COVID-19 pandemic, and were now missing paychecks because the snow and ice left them trapped in their homes. This added cost while sitting in houses with no utilities was brutal for those already struggling to make ends meet. Many people did not survive through the power outages, lack of clean water and cold temperatures of this unprecedented event.
Those who lived in rural areas which lack hospitals, commercial businesses, commercial living complexes and other facilities essential to the Texas economy had a higher likelihood of being impacted by the man-made problems exacerbated by the storm, including the rise in gas prices and the controlled power outages. Black and Latinx communities who greatly inhabit these areas suffered the worst consequences, affirming the inherent correlation between climate change and systemic racism. These communities suffered through this climate and government-fueled disaster, while still living through the raging COVID-19 pandemic that is harshly impacting them. The government has shown that when worse comes to worse, they are willing to sacrifice Black and Latinx communities in order to protect an oppressive and racist capitalist order.
Though this storm took place in the middle of February, lots of people are still lacking access to safe water in Texas, as are some communities in Mississippi. Even though these states initially experienced a climate disaster, it is the government’s abandonment of its marginalized populations that allowed the storm to become so deadly. Instead of providing these communities with the adequate resources and solutions to cope with and manage the conditions in question, politicians left their constituents to fend for themselves. This is environmental racism, and it is nothing new to America.
Over 15 years before this year’s winter storm, the South experienced a humanitarian crisis, Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, this hurricane devastated states including Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The deadly storm destroyed businesses, houses and lives throughout these states. It had an especially negative impact on New Orleans, La. –– a majority Black city. Though this was a natural disaster, the insurmountable damage was caused by the federal government neglecting to prepare prior to the disaster and in the hurricane’s aftermath, abandoning these communities after the storm. While former President George W. Bush took his time relaxing on his vacation, the American people were drowning in the damage of this vicious storm.
The poor construction of levees that protect the land in New Orleans from hurricanes dramatized the damage of Hurricane Katrina. Had the government taken the time to implement protective measures and provide resources, like more funding and better quality levee construction, the city would have been better prepared. Tens of thousands of people had to permanently leave their Louisiana residences because of the damage done to their homes and businesses. Louisiana received large surges of aid when Katrina first hit, but it wasn’t enough. Despite the fact that the community is still suffering over 15 years later, conversation regarding the storm has greatly diminished.
Similar to New Orleans, Puerto Rico went through significant trauma and destruction with Hurricane Maria in 2017. But when comparing the amount of aid that went to Puerto Rico with other hurricanes like Irma and Harvey that destroyed rich white continental cities, Puerto Rico received a lot less aid, despite having the most amount of destruction. New Orleans and Puerto Rico, still living with the damage from their hurricanes so many years later, while rich white communities are able to thrive because of the government’s swift aid after the storms, emphasizes America’s persistent problem of environmental racism.
Almost seven years ago, Flint’s water supply was found to be contaminated with lead and bacteria. This was another case of environmental racism in which the Michigan government cut down on water costs by changing Flint’s water supply. It’s notable that the government chose Flint for this abhorrent decision –– Flint has the second-largest population of Black Americans in Michigan. As of 2019, its population was 54.1% Black, and 38.8% of its citizens were considered under the poverty line. The new water system was filled with bacteria and lead that caused many diseases, deaths and developmental issues in Flint residents.
When the country originally learned about this problem, almost a year after Flint’s water was first contaminated, pledges of monetary donations and safe water flooded into the city. National news channels would report all the latest updates, and there was persistence in informing the country on what was happening in this city. People wanted answers and wanted to help as much as possible, but as soon as the news stopped deeming the situation as newsworthy, conversations around the country stopped. Years later, Flint is still struggling to get clean water. A 13-year-old Flint resident, Mari Copeny, has been instrumental in keeping the conversation going around the country since she was 8 years old. Government officials responsible for this crime are now being charged and some pipes have started to be replaced. But as a whole, national concern has lessened tremendously despite the persisting urgency of this problem. Poisoned water is still a reality for this city.
Texas was fortunate to receive donations and aid from non-profit organizations in order to help out some of its communities who are struggling right now. This philanthropy is a testament to humanity and is effective, but the remedy marginalized communities really need is environmental justice. This situation is a repeated humanitarian crisis that will only start to heal once honest accountability is pursued, rather than false perceptions of accountability that only serve as a publicity stunt to distract from cries for help. The problems in Mississippi and Texas are recent, but I’m worried about what will happen once these events aren’t breaking news. Will people start to forget about Texas, like they have Flint, Mississippi and New Orleans?
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.