Since classes resumed in late January, Chicago has experienced what feels like a near-endless pile-up of snow. Foot-tall mounds of weeks-old powder flank sidewalks, multi-story apartments are adorned with long dripping icicles and some streetside cars are nearly unrecognizable after weeks laying dormant. And more often than not, we’ve turned to our phones to see “winter storm warning” telling us more snow is to come.
Despite the extra measures some Chicagoans have had to take to stay safe, our city was prepared for this. We pulled out our winter coats and snow boots, shovels and salt and had our city functioning again. But, for others across the country who have experienced their own unprecedented weather in recent days, this wasn’t the case.
The past couple weeks brought snow to unexpected parts of the United States, and with it, a flurry of news coverage highlighting the breakdown and crisis that followed — a harrowing reminder of the way climate change is starting to impact our everyday lives.
Some of the country’s traditionally warmest states were ill-equipped for the winter cold front that came their way. Texas seemed to suffer the most, as huge swathes of the state’s nearly 29 million people faced challenges such as power outages, water disruptions, broken pipes and, for some, death.
The severity of the past week’s weather crisis and the chaos that followed shouldn’t be a surprise.
Contrary to the overused phrase “global warming,” climate change is going to cause extreme weather of all calibers. Think devastating West Coast wildfires or stronger hurricanes battering the Caribbean. The Texas storm is only the most recent example of “freak” storms becoming the norm.
What’s more, institutional roadblocks that exacerbated the crisis — such as Texas’ privatized electrical grid and lack of federal leadership (looking at you, Ted Cruz) — show how ill-prepared our country is to meet the growing strain climate change places on our industries and infrastructure.
If you need any more proof climate change is here, take this past summer’s rampant wildfires in the western United States. Even when wildfires are started by people — which happens 80 percent of the time, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions — the organization reports the warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change make fires more difficult to extinguish.
If our lawmakers and corporate leaders keep failing to link these incidents to climate change and neglect their role in spearheading effective solutions, we will never escape these “unprecedented times” the past year has so many loathing.
The bottom line is climate change is here, and it’s here to stay. As our country was blanketed in snow, it also formally rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement — a pact between nearly 200 countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — Feb. 19. While this is a promising start following four years of deregulatory climate efforts from former President Donald Trump’s administration, it’s also largely symbolic.
We knew going in President Joe Biden’s climate plan was hardly a robust one, but what we’ve seen so far is in the same vein as his recent 500 candle COVID-19 remembrance ceremony — a symbolic distraction from the fact nothing significant has changed.
The excuse of “Biden hasn’t had time” shouldn’t be used with an existential crisis such as this — because there isn’t any time left.