4 minute read

We need to learn from these things.

This week, more than 200,000 Oklahomans were thrown into a cold and dark world when an unseasonable ice storm knocked out electrical service in central Oklahoma, and most of us are still without it. There is an excellent chance you are reading this column on a phone that you charged with your car, where a nest of wires keeps a small segment of your technology crawling along. 

My house lost power around 2:30 p.m. Monday after multiple brownouts characterized by dimmed lights, loss of internet and an ominous hum from nearby transformers. My house, built during the 1970s energy crisis, quickly started taking on cold air. We inflated an air mattress and set it by the fireplace, where we have more or less been parked since. 

Opinion

Opinion

by George Lang, opinion writer for Free Press

Like so many of our friends and neighbors, we are facing a refrigerator full of spoiled food and no guarantee that we will receive power for the rest of the week. I have not taken a shower in four days, and our dogs are starting to smell better than us. 

We are lucky to have a fireplace. So many of our friends in the central neighborhoods do not have fireplaces, and many of those who were unable to secure hotel rooms are alternating between time in their cars and time in their homes.

We went through this for nine days during the brutal 2007 ice storm, alternating between parents’ homes and trying to keep an asthmatic toddler from suffering a full-on bronchial attack. Now, 13 years later, that storm is still the benchmark by which most people compare power outages. 

Oklahomans treat our fragile electrical infrastructure the way we observe the waxing and waning of the state economy. When oil prices go down, we discuss ways to diversify that economy and lower the state’s dependence on its petroleum industry, but once prosperity returns to Oklahoma oil, we return to our standard complacency. 

Similarly, Oklahoma City Twitter lights up with demands for Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) to bury power lines, but we would have far fewer problems if the utility were to prune power line-adjacent trees on a more frequent basis. 

Ultimately, if we were to be more like ants than grasshoppers, we might not have these problems. 

But we are the same nation that elected a president who closed the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense less than two years before the world got hit with coronavirus. We, as a country, do not plan well. 

Whether they are local or global catastrophes, we must learn from disasters and, perhaps most importantly, regain the empathy that 40 percent of Americans either never had or lost during the Donald Trump presidency. 

If you are currently freezing your ass off and eating cold beans from a can, then you have the potential to empathize with the 1,573 Oklahoma Cityans counted as homeless during the Homeless Alliance’s annual Point in Time Count in January. 

This storm underlines for all of us how the homeless and those experiencing housing and/or food insecurity live every day. Sure, I am mad that Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey has his lights on two blocks away from my nearly heatless home, but I am supremely pissed that there are people around us who cannot stay warm at any time during the cold months. 

We must elect people at all levels of government who care about those for whom every day is the great ice storm of 2020. Teachable moments do not come more bluntly than this one. 

Think about it: Oklahoma experienced a catastrophic loss of power one week before the Nov. 3 general election. That should turn some heads around. 

And maybe it is. On Thursday morning, the line of cars stretching down Lincoln Boulevard was two miles long, all to vote early at the Oklahoma County Election Board. Significantly, they have already announced that they will operate off of their generator on election day as they did Thursday no matter if the grid is back up or not. If you have a heated car, this is a good time to be stuck in virtuous traffic. 

But let us not lose sight the moment the lights come on in our houses. We must keep in mind those who live like this all the time, and we must empower those who never have power. Vote well on Tuesday.


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