2 out of 4 ain’t bad

Sorry, this is only tangentially related to Design, but allow me to digress. I’ll bring it around.

If Pandemic Lockdown wasn’t enough, now, in Texas, we have Ice Storm Lockdown with bonus rolling blackouts. If your pandemic hoard is gone, tough luck restocking for the ice storm. If your room temperature is below freezing, the good news is you don’t need to worry about the food in the refrigerator spoiling–just open the door.

ERCOT, the Electric “Reliability” Council of Texas (really? you have one job and it’s in your title) says it was unprecedented. Not my fault. OK, I guess when you look out your window in Austin and see 7 inches of snow you can be blamed for thinking that. But dig a little (i.e. r/austin) and same thing happened in 2011. And 1989.

Sometimes it sinks in. Houston now knows the 500 year flood is really every other year or so. But for the most part it is ‘yeah that happened’ and move on. It was unprecedented so don’t worry, it won’t happen again. Besides, it would cost money to fix it! That’s one valid response to a risk analysis: do nothing, accept the risk, ‘take the hit’. Just not when people are dying.

We knew a pandemic was coming.

We knew the financial crisis was coming.

We knew 9/11 was coming.

In fact, the US Gov’t employs a number of teams to try to predict the future, like the pandemic response team that was dispersed a few years before the Covid-19 outbreak. The US military is actually more pragmatic about climate change than many of its supporters; it’s all about the threat.

It has been unfortunate that the political party in power in these crises has been the one least interested in governing. Clean up falls to the ones who come after, who don’t get the credit–or don’t get to fully fix the problem because they are hamstrung by the politics.

The experience of the pandemic, and the realization that the Texas electric grid is built on bailing wire and un-regulation, should move us forward to solve the problems it exposes. Being a designer and using Design Thinking tend to make me an optimist–that ‘bias towards action’ built into the process. There are a lot of things we can fix — education, work practices, public health, infrastructure (we all need heat and broadband!). Or we can hope it doesn’t happen again.


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