Author and environmentalist Naomi Klein argued in a New York Times column Sunday that Republicans rushed to attack the Green New Deal as disaster struck in Texas because the popular push for a sweeping transformation of the U.S. energy system poses a genuine threat to the deregulated, fossil-fuel dependent status quo that left the Lone Star State vulnerable to extreme weather driven by the climate crisis.
"Texans are living through the collapse of a 40-year experiment in free-market fundamentalism, one that has also stood in the way of effective climate action," Klein wrote. "Fortunately, there's a way out—and that's precisely what Republican politicians in the state most fear."
Klein characterized the ongoing power, water, and food crises in Texas as the consequence of "an energy-market free-for-all" stemming from "a fateful series of decisions [that] were made in the late-'90s, when the now-defunct, scandal-plagued energy company Enron led a successful push to radically deregulate Texas' electricity sector."
"Of course the Green New Deal finds itself under fierce attack. Because for the first time in a long time, Republicans face the very thing that they claim to revere but never actually wanted: competition—in the battle of ideas."
"As a result, decisions about the generation and distribution of power were stripped from regulators and, in effect, handed over to private energy companies," Klein wrote. "Unsurprisingly, these companies prioritized short-term profit over costly investments to maintain the grid and build in redundancies for extreme weather. Today, Texans are at the mercy of regulation-allergic politicians who failed to require that energy companies plan for shocks or weatherize their infrastructure (renewables and fossil fuel alike)."
In the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri, ordinary Texans are beginning to see the direct impact of the deregulatory push on their material wellbeing as electric companies hit them with bills topping $17,000—"a consequence," Klein argued, "of leaving pricing to the whims of the market."
Alluding to her previous work on "the shock doctrine"—a term she coined to describe how the right has exploited past disasters to force through unpopular privatization and austerity agendas—Klein noted that "large-scale shocks... become ideal moments to smuggle in unpopular free-market policies that tend to enrich elites at everyone else's expense."
"I often quote a guru of the free market revolution, the late economist Milton Friedman," Klein wrote. "In 1982, he wrote about what he saw as the mission of right-wing economists like him: 'Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."
The difference between past shocks such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis and the current emergency in Texas, Klein argued, is that "Republican ideas are no longer lying around—they are lying in ruin."
Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott attacked the Green New Deal—a proposal that has not even been implemented—in an appearance on Fox News last week because he knows its promise to "create millions of union jobs building out shock-resilient green energy infrastructure, transit, and affordable housing" is "extremely appealing" to Texans as they "suffer under the overlapping crises of unemployment, houselessness, racial injustice, crumbling public services, and extreme weather," Klein wrote.
"All that Texas' Republicans have to offer, in contrast," Klein added, "is continued oil and gas dependence—driving more climate disruption—alongside more privatizations and cuts to public services to pay for their state's mess, which we can expect them to push in the weeks and months ahead."
As The Houston Chronicle reported last week, Republican members of the Texas state legislature are already signaling that "one of the most immediate reforms they will push for is recalibrating the state's electricity grid to ensure more fossil fuels are in that mix and fewer renewables."
But Klein contended that "unlike when the Republican Party began deploying the shock doctrine, its free-market playbook is no longer novel."
"The horrors currently unfolding in Texas expose both the reality of the climate crisis and the extreme vulnerability of fossil fuel infrastructure in the face of that crisis," Klein wrote. "So of course the Green New Deal finds itself under fierce attack. Because for the first time in a long time, Republicans face the very thing that they claim to revere but never actually wanted: competition—in the battle of ideas."
Their ideas are no longer "lying around," as Milton Friedman said they must be — their ideas are lying in ruin
And it's the left with the plan fit for today's shocks. https://t.co/lCWTvOAY67
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) February 21, 2021
In recent days, as Common Dreams has reported, progressive advocacy groups such as the youth-led Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace USA have made the case that—contrary to the GOP's bad-faith attacks—a Green New Deal is precisely what's needed to help Texas equitably recover from the present emergency and build the resilience necessary to withstand future climate-driven disasters.
"We need change, and the Green New Deal is the obvious, urgent solution."
—Chante Davis, Sunrise Movement
"Many people across the country are realizing for the first time that fossil fuels are not only polluting, they are unstable. Millions of Texans are being let down by coal, oil, and gas right now," Greenpeace climate campaigner Ashley Thomson said last Thursday.
On Monday, activists with the Sunrise Movement of Texas are expected to rally at the state capitol in Austin to demand immediate relief for struggling Texans, the resignations of Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas.), and passage of a Green New Deal that would "make our state and country more resilient to future disasters, and create millions of good union jobs in the process of transforming these necessary structures."
"Texas is the perfect example of what happens when our politicians cater to fossil fuel executives instead of the young people who have been shouting from the rooftops for years, warning of an impending climate emergency like this," said Chante Davis, a 17-year-old Sunrise Movement leader and Houston resident.
"I've survived three once in a lifetime storms in my 17 years of life," added Davis, whose family moved to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "We need change, and the Green New Deal is the obvious, urgent solution. As our communities come together to fill the void of our government, our leaders must invest in us to provide jobs that directly address the crises we face."