The Future of Texas

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Good morning. We look at Texas’ big economic strengths — and a threat to its future.

You can make a case that the U.S. state with the brightest long-term economic future is Texas.

It’s a more affordable place to live than much of the Northeast or West Coast and still has powerful ways to draw new residents, including a thriving cultural scene, a diverse population and top research universities. Its elementary schools and middle schools perform well above average in reading and math (and notably ahead of California’s), according to the Urban Institute.

These strengths have helped the population of Texas to surge by more than 15 percent, or about four million people, over the past decade. In the past few months, two high-profile technology companies — Oracle and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise — have announced they are moving their headquarters to the state, and Tesla may soon follow. As California was in the 20th century, Texas today looks like a state that can embody and shape the country’s future.

But Texas also has a big problem, as the world has just witnessed. A useful way to think of it is the fossil fuel problem.

‘This’ll happen again’

Even with its growing tech and health care industries, the Texas economy revolves around oil and gas. And those fossil fuels have created two threats to the state’s economic future.

The first is climate change, which is making Texas a less pleasant place to live. The number of 95-degree days has spiked, and severe hurricanes have become more common, including Harvey, which brutalized Houston and the Gulf Coast in 2017. Paradoxically, climate change may also be weakening the jet stream, making bouts of frigid weather more common.

On the national level, Texas politicians have played a central role in preventing action to slow climate change. On the local level, leaders have failed to prepare for the new era of extreme weather — including leaving the electricity grid vulnerable to last week’s cold spell, which in turn left millions of Texans without power and water.

Many residents feel abandoned. In Copperas Cove, a city in central Texas, Daniel Peterson told my colleague Jack Healy on Saturday that he was utterly exasperated with the officials who had failed to restore power six days after it went out. He is planning to install a wood-burning stove, because, as he said, “This’ll happen again.”

In Dallas, Tumaini Criss spent the weekend worried that she would not be able to afford a new home for her and her three sons after a leaky pipe caved in her ceiling and destroyed appliances and furniture. “I don’t know where that leaves me,” she said.

In San Antonio, Juan Flores, a 73-year-old Navy veteran, told my colleague Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio that he was frustrated by the lack of communication from local officials. When Giulia interviewed Flores, he had not showered in days (and graciously warned her to stand back while interviewing him, saying, “I stink”). To get enough water to flush his toilet, he had walked to a bar. To heat his apartment, he was boiling water on his stove.

The next energy industry

The second threat is related to climate change but different. It comes from the possibility that alternative energy sources like wind and solar power are becoming cheap enough to shrink Texas’ oil and gas industry.

“The cost advantage of solar and wind has become decisive, and promises to become vaster still,” Noah Smith, an economist and Texas native, wrote in his Substack newsletter. “I don’t want to see my home state become an economic backwater, shackled to the corpse of a dying fossil fuel age.”

Instead of investing adequately in new energy forms, though, many Texas politicians have tried to protect fossil fuels. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott went so far as to blame wind and solar energy — falsely — for causing the blackouts. The main culprit was the failure of natural gas, as these charts by my colleague Veronica Penney show.

As Smith explains, the best hope for Texas’ energy industry is probably to embrace wind and solar power, not to scapegoat them. The state, after all, gets plenty of wind and sun. “Texas can be the future, instead of fighting the future,” Smith wrote.

The future isn’t the past

The larger economic story here is a common one. Companies — and places — that have succeeded for decades with one technology rarely welcome change. Kodak didn’t encourage digital photography, and neither The New York Times nor The Wall Street Journal created Craigslist.

Texas’ political and business leaders have made a lot of successful moves in recent decades. They have avoided some of the political sclerosis that has held back parts of the Northeast and California, like zoning restrictions that benefit aging homeowners at the expense of young families.

But Texas’ leaders are sacrificing the future for the present in a different way. They have helped their fossil fuel companies maximize short-term profits at the expense of the state’s long-term well-being. They have resisted regulation and investments that could have made their power grid more resilient to severe weather (as this Times story documents), and have tried to wish away climate change even as it forces Texans to endure more miserable weather.

In those ways, Texas is offering a different — and more worrisome — glimpse into the future.

What’s happening now:

With temperatures back to the 60s and 70s, Texans continued to grapple with a water crisis — and plumbers are swamped.

After the storm, Texans needed food and comfort. They found it at the supermarket H-E-B. It’s like “the moral center of Texas,” one Austin resident said.

THE LATEST NEWS

The Virus

The number of Americans hospitalized with Covid is at its lowest since early November.

An uptick in economic indicators and the prospect of more stimulus have economists talking about the possibility of a post-Covid boom in jobs and wages.

Politics

Nearly two hours passed after the Capitol Police’s first call for help on Jan. 6 before the Pentagon decided to send troops. Why? Confusion over the chain of command and arguments over optics.

Many Democrats hope that Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, will soon retire from the Supreme Court — and they have suggested replacements.

In the final days of the Trump administration, the Treasury Department quietly lifted sanctions on an Israeli mining magnate. Biden administration officials are scrambling to find out whether they can reverse that.

Other Big Stories

Boeing recommended the grounding of its 777 jets with a particular engine model until the Federal Aviation Administration determines how best to inspect them. A 777 suffered a failure that scattered debris across a Colorado suburb this weekend. (Nobody was hurt.)

Avalanches have killed at least 30 people in the U.S. this winter, the most in years. The Pacific Northwest is on high alert for more.

The U.S. deported a 95-year-old former Nazi camp guard from Tennessee to Germany. It could be America’s last prosecution of a Nazi collaborator.

Morning Reads

Ball is life: Serena Aponso, 14 — named after that Serena — worked as a ball kid at this year’s Australian Open. This is what her days looked like.

The Media Equation: Investigative journalism is flourishing in Russia. Ben Smith explains.

From Opinion: Ross Douthat considers Rush Limbaugh. And Gail Collins discusses next year’s midterm elections with Bret Stephens.

Lives Lived: Arturo Di Modica, a sculptor and Sicilian immigrant, was best known for “Charging Bull,” a 3.5-ton bronze that he illegally deposited one night in Lower Manhattan — where it remains a landmark. Di Modica died at 80.

ARTS AND IDEAS

Are blue-light glasses worth it?

Sales of “computer glasses” are booming. The many companies that sell blue-light glasses — at prices from less than $20 to more than $100 — claim they can help relieve eye strain and improve sleep. But do we really need them?

No, many experts say. “Anyone promising miracles from a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses is probably selling something,” Kaitlyn Wells of Wirecutter has written.

The low level of blue light from screens does not appear to cause health problems. In Britain, one company had to pay a fine of about $56,000 after making misleading claims that the glasses could protect the retina from damage.

Some experts do think that blue light — which is emitted by both the sun and technology screens — can cause sleep problems. But glasses aren’t the only solution. Phone coverings are often cheaper — and turning on night mode is free, Tim Barribeau, a Wirecutter editor, told us. Or you could just put your phone away a couple of hours before bedtime.

PLAY, WATCH, EAT

What to Cook

This takeout-style orange beef is fragrant and delicious.

What to Listen to

The new audio series “Live From Mount Olympus” translates a Greek myth into a story for teens. The Times critic Maya Phillips called it delightful.

Virtual Travel

Deep in the Altai Mountains, Kazakh people have a special bond with golden eagles. Watch them hunt together.

Late Night

“Saturday Night Live” featured a fictional Britney Spears.

Now Time to Play

The pangrams from Friday’s Spelling Bee were analogizing and gazillion. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Its scientific name is Canis lupus (four letters).

If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. It’s the first day of DealBook’s policy forum, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, and more. Watch it here.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Rush Limbaugh’s legacy. The Book Review podcast examines leukemia and comedians’ memoirs.

Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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