Last week, an ice storm battered the United States, leaving more than 150 million people huddling for warmth in perilously frigid conditions. Texas had it the worst: Record snowfall left much of the region without access to clean water or food amid one of the largest forced blackouts in modern history.
Extreme weather is often referred to as a “once in a lifetime” disaster. But today, one need only recall the similarly devastating events of 2020 to know this is no longer the case.
Last fall, a series of megafires razed the western United States, causing extensive damage and killing dozens. In just the past year, six wildfires in California ranked among the largest in state history.
A worrisome pattern emerges: Not only are extreme weather events growing more frequent and severe, but it’s become increasingly apparent just how woefully unprepared the U.S. is to handle them. Between electricity and water service disruptions in Texas and the power outages that have plagued California in recent years, neither state seems poised to confront impending climate crises.
But inaction — both in addressing root causes of climate change and preparing to deal with its effects — is not just irresponsible; it endangers human life.
During the California wildfires, many of those who perished were elderly or disabled, unable to escape the sweeping blazes in time. Last week, mass blackouts in Texas left people with chronic illnesses struggling to use necessary medical devices. As extreme weather continues, vulnerable populations — including elderly and disabled folks, but also those living in poverty or homelessness — will be at increased risk.
It’s imperative that leaders at all levels of government begin preparing in earnest for long-term climate resilience. That means implementing plans to preemptively meet the basic needs of residents and help them emerge from catastrophe unscathed. It also means ensuring energy grid and storage technologies can weather worsening conditions. Here in Berkeley where wildfires pose significant risk, robust evacuation and contingency plans remain crucial.
A common refrain today is that young adults will be the generation to finally address climate change. And perhaps that’s true. Already, young people across the political spectrum are fulfilling their obligations to help lead bold climate action. Young people of color in particular have stepped up in large numbers to advocate for climate justice.
Before long, today’s youth will be making the important decisions when it comes to protecting our planet. We long for that day. But recent extreme weather in California, Texas and across the country has made it abundantly clear that the climate will not wait for a new generation of political leaders. And neither can our government.
Climate change has been knocking on our door for the better part of four decades and the margin for error is closing fast. We must prepare — equitably, decisively and with great urgency.