Congress, We Need You
Updated: 4 days ago
Dear Members of the United States Congress,
It’s funny how rising temperatures in one place can cause freezes of extraordinary proportions in another.
Well, actually, it’s not funny. In fact, it’s the thing that keeps me from falling asleep at night.
It’s the reason why people in my hometown of Lewisville, Texas were paralyzed in fear last February, when an unprecedented winter storm forced thousands of residents to take refuge indoors despite that they lacked secure access to electricity and heating.
It’s the reason why several of my classmates’ homes flooded when their water pipes, frozen under the dangerously low temperatures, suddenly burst and spewed frigid water into their kitchens and bathrooms.
It’s the reason why, due to mechanical issues at local treatment facilities, my family found dirt in our toilet water and was put on a boil water notice – while countless others turned on their taps only for nothing to come out at all.
Having spent the last 18 years living in Lewisville, I’ve come to familiarize myself with the weather patterns that each month brings. February in particular is almost always known for temperatures ranging from 40 to 65°F, with little to no rainfall and partly cloudy skies. The winds are only slightly chilly, providing the perfect weather for children to ride their scooters or play tag outside in a light sweater or T-shirt. If you stop a group of Lewisville residents on the sidewalk and tell them that they’ll be hit with five inches of snow and 139 consecutive hours of below-freezing temperatures in February, they’ll likely laugh at you, swat their hands playfully, and walk away.
And that’s the reason why when our governor issued a disaster declaration for my county and 16 others in the face of unparalleled February weather conditions, we didn’t know how to respond.
Lasting from February 14th to February 20th of 2021, Winter Storm Uri remains a harrowing warning of the heartache and loss that extreme weather events can cause. Aside from producing a death toll of at least 246 – including several children and newborns – as a result of hypothermia, vehicle accidents, or other freeze-associated challenges, the storm also caused millions of dollars of agricultural losses and displaced families whose homes were destroyed by bursting pipes. It’s not that the temperatures were too low or the snowfall was too high – it’s that we weren’t prepared. The infrastructure of our homes and our schools and our energy grid was ill-fitted to withstand prolonged low temperatures. Our cities had a limited supply of both power generators and water bottles to distribute to those who most needed them. In a state that seems to constantly make headlines for its scorching temperatures, nobody had anticipated that it could suddenly become so cold.
The events that occurred last February are by no means a consequence of natural fluctuations in weather. Rather, new research shows a strong link connecting our Texas freeze – and abnormally cold temperatures in other southern states – to climate change. As our planet has continued to warm increasingly rapidly over the past several decades, Arctic sea ice has begun to melt at a rate that cannot be replenished by winter refreezing. Such large-scale melting has weakened the cold winds circling the Arctic region and sent some of those winds elsewhere – a phenomenon that scientists now believe is contributing to freezing temperatures further south. In other words, anthropogenic activities are altering not only the natural landscape in otherwise unsettled areas, but also the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in inhabited ones.
I’m not writing to you today to ask that you merely set aside a budget to improve southern infrastructure in preparation for a future February freeze. That is only a temporary solution to a much greater problem. Though scientists agree that we need to limit the increase in Earth’s temperature to a maximum of 1.5°C to avert the worst consequences of global warming, recent projections provided by the United Nations now predict that our planet could warm by another 4.4°C by the end of this century. The combustion of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity is the top culprit, but certainly not the only one. This, combined with unsustainable deforestation, agricultural and industrial activity, and even widespread food waste, has thrust us onto a dangerous path that will very well threaten humans and the animals and plants we rely on – unless you pass legislation that demands otherwise.
As a leading emitter of greenhouse gases, our country plays a significant role in contributing to climate change – but it doesn’t have to. Despite that young people like me have long lobbied for stricter environmental regulations, it is representatives like you who hold the final voice in determining what becomes law. It is you who can ultimately steer our country in a more sustainable direction through policies that favor higher carbon taxes on emissions by manufacturers, more stringent restrictions on concentrated animal feeding operations, and increased funding for renewable energy projects, among others. If America’s youth have consistently invested their time and money into advancing the climate justice agenda internationally, then surely lawmakers like you can make strides in climate-conscious initiatives at the national level.
Already I’ve witnessed the catastrophic effects of climate change on my own community. But even amidst gruesome summer heat waves that keep me locked up in my house and February freezes that turn clean water into a scarcity, I am lucky. I am lucky that I live in a town that isn’t threatened by food insecurity due to crop losses, or where forest fires consume entire neighborhoods populated by children and their schools. I am lucky that I’ve gotten to spend most of the past eighteen years of my life riding my bike outside in the afternoons without fear of getting a heat stroke, or splashing in puddles with my friends without fear of being consumed by a sudden flood. Your own children, your friends’ children, and your nieces and nephews are unlikely to be so fortunate, though they deserve to be.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a climate activist, it’s that climate change isn’t going to stop for us.
It isn’t going to stop for the children in St. George, Utah, who are at a high risk of developing respiratory issues in the presence of suffocating wildfire smoke.
It isn’t going to stop for the children in Las Vegas, New Mexico, who only have twenty days of clean drinking water left due to monsoon-driven sediment runoff into the town’s water supply.
And it isn’t going to stop for the children in my hometown of Lewisville, who are struggling to comprehend how a single place could experience some of the country’s most treacherous summer heat and the most devastating winter freeze in a single year.
As you begin to draft new legislation, remember that our precious Earth – our coral reefs and redwood forests and glaciers and waterfalls, and the diverse states and cities and towns that surround them – is already starting to succumb to human activity. If not for yourself, think about the youngsters who will otherwise never get to embrace our planet for the beauty it beholds. America’s youth are crying for your help, and we hope you’ll respond with the same sense of urgency that we feel when we catch a glimpse of the future that awaits us.
“Climate Action Fast Facts.” United Nations, United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/key-findings.
Cohen, Judah et al. “Linking Arctic variability and change with extreme winter weather in the United States.” Science, Vol 373, Issue 6559, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1 Sep. 2021, pp. 1116-1121, DOI:10.1126/science.abi9167.
“February 2021: Historic Winter Storm and Arctic Outbreak.” National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Feb. 2021, https://www.weather.gov/fwd/Feb-2021-WinterEvent.
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2022, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.