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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

From stronger storms to Arctic warming to California fires, rising atmospheric carbon levels mean there's no escaping the fallout from global warming. Now, we're plunged into a new world of managing the consequences.

Why it matters: Some regions will require power grids more prepared for extreme heat and cold. But the needs go far beyond power systems to building codes, workplace regulations and design and placement of infrastructure.

Rutgers University climate scientist Robert Kopp tells Axios that the pandemic and the Texas disaster have shown us that the competence of public institutions is a predictor of the "severity" of transcendent disasters.

  • He's among the many authors of a 2018 federal report that laid out the climate-related health and economic risks facing different parts of the country. 
  • "[R]ising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property," along with labor productivity, the report says.

Scientists are still analyzing the nexus between polar vortex events and climate change. But Princeton energy expert Jesse Jenkins wrote in a New York Times op-ed: "[W]e do know that climate change increases the frequency of extreme heat waves, droughts, wildfires, rain and coastal flooding."

  • "Those extreme events test our systems to the breaking point, as they have in Texas this week," he writes.

Michael Wehner, an extreme weather expert with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said in an email exchange with Axios that vast swaths of the country will need to adapt:

  • "For hurricanes, this may mean managed retreat in some low-lying areas and building code changes in other areas," Wehner said.
  • Low-income people and people who work outdoors are most at risk, requiring stiffer workplace safety guidelines — and enforcement.

What's next: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday he'll ask the legislature to require Texas' power system to be winterized — a basic step that it didn't take before this week's disaster.

The bottom line: As important as adaptation strategies are, climate experts say they're not a replacement for the need to cut emissions.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 17, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The changing climate for U.S. power

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The crisis gripping Texas' power grid is very different from California's fiery emergencies in recent years, but there's connective tissue there: Electricity grids and infrastructure need to be better equipped for a changing climate or they can have deadly consequences.

Driving the news: Texas is reeling after a bitter blast of Arctic air and a related demand surge led to widespread outages, causing millions of customers to lose power that as of this morning is only partially restored.

America's can't-do spirit

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The power outages in Texas are the latest in a series of disasters that will be harder to fix — or prevent from happening again — because Americans are retreating to partisan and cultural corners instead of trying to solve problems.

The big picture: From COVID to the election fallout to the utter collapse of Texas' electric grid, America is no longer showing the rest of the world how to conquer its biggest challenges. Instead, there's always another uncivil war to be fought — even when democracy, global health and now climate change are on the line.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

What's next in the Texas power crisis

Satellite image of the Houston area. Courtesy of the Colorado School of Mines.

A Feb. 16 satellite image above of Houston-area power outages (shown in red and explained here) gets to the immense scale of the Texas-wide crisis.

Why it matters: It's a human tragedy that's also quickly reaching Beltway energy discussions and responses and jostling oil markets.