Waking Up in Texas
Maybe the surprise of Texas in crisis can shake us out of our California complacency.
I’m not hopeful in the sense of optimistic, but I do hope that the Texas power outages are enough of a surprise to shake some decision makers out of their complacency. “Infrastructure Week” became a joke almost as quickly as the first one was announced, all those years ago. But we do need an infrastructure week, and an infrastructure year, and maybe an infrastructure decade.
The Texas cold snap is a reminder that resilience in systems is more important than efficiency. Without the capacity to adapt to changing conditions, any structure, whether a power grid, a culture, or a creature, will only more efficiently die. Resilience implies some capacity to adjust function in response to external constraints, to self-regulate in pursuit of some goal. At some point in the not so distant past (I’m going to guess either 1972 or 1989 and not explain further) the United States seems to have decided to optimize for efficiency for its own sake and regulation for its own sake, too. Resilience does not appear to have been involved.
We have all gotten a little too used to major parts of the country’s infrastructure failing. California’s regression to a developing nation is the stuff of jokes, even though the homelessness crisis, crime, droughts, and wildfires are all ever more apparent. But maybe it’s easy to ignore the real tragedies on the ground when the loudest voices calling for the state’s reform—the futurists—are also eager to leave this planet, or even humanity, behind entirely. There’s a profound pessimism beneath all this technological optimism; we, the people, embodied, political, are not going to be able to figure it out. Time to go.
But Texas? Power outages in Houston? We have a problem. Maybe we should figure out how to fix it.