Texas heat wave is a good reminder that we are not ready for a warmer world

Texas is having a heat wave, and everybody trying to get cool has overloaded the grid down there, causing thousands of power outages. This isn’t anywhere close to the first time this has happened, but for some reason, the folks running the state can’t seem to actually improve things, so more people have to die. I wanted to share this video from Beau of the Fifth Column, who makes the very good point that even the US army doesn’t pretend extreme temperatures are something you can just “tough out”.


I also wanted to draw attention to the plight of prisoners in Texas. Prisons are already horrible places, but when something like a heat wave or a pandemic hits, even the most minor offender can end up with a death sentence.

After a week of scorching temperatures across the Lone Star State breaking records and hitting triple-digits, the Senate decision to reduce air-conditioning funding in Texas prisons has many concerns.

“Stifling heat has killed inmates and exacerbated employee turnover in Texas prisons,” the Texas Tribune reported. “But funding for air conditioning was whittled down in the draft budget released in May.”

Last summer, a report recorded that inmates incarcerated in Texas regularly live within 110-degree temperatures during the summer months, with a temperature of 149 degrees recorded in one prison unit, according to the Texas A&M University Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center.

The issue has resulted in a high number of employment vacancies at Texas prisons resulting in secondary problems such as low and overworked staff, according to the Associated Press. While reports vary on how many deaths contribute annually from the heat in Texas prisons, the numbers are difficult to track because of possible underlying health issues, according to reports.

It is noted that during a record heat wave in 2011, multiple deaths were reported in response at Texas prisons.

In 2017, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston stated the Texas prison system was “deliberately indifferent” to heat risks and subjected inmates to “a substantial risk of serious injury or death.” Ellison’s comments came as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by inmates at one unit.

A perception among Texas lawmakers is that air-conditioning is a luxury, TIME recently reported on Texas prisons after funding was halted during this year’s legislation.

As I’ve said before, in a rapidly warming world, air conditioning is a vital necessity in ever-growing parts of the world. Texas is one such place. When the weather gets hot enough, especially if it’s not what people are used to, air conditioning is as necessary as heating in the winter. The US prison system is already a crime against humanity, but as the temperature rises, that’s going to keep getting worse.

Our society is riddled with pockets of corruption and institutional violence that have been allowed to fester for generations. These sorts of problems tend to grow when a society is placed under strain, and it sure looks like the powers that be are increasing police powers, and increasing the criminalization of left-wing political activism. Given the sadism of the US law enforcement system, this heat is going to become yet another way to torment prisoners, well beyond any simple sentence of imprisonment. In addition to being a reason for us to take climate change seriously, this is also a reason to work away from viewing people as disposable or broken, and towards prison abolition.

Take care of yourselves, and take care of those around you, if you have the ability. Since people are the base of any movement for a better world, caring for each other is caring for the foundations of what we want to build.


  1. says

    Thanks for that, John!

    And yeah, that’s the impression I’ve gotten, but I don’t watch TV news, so it’s hard to be sure, so that’s good to hear. It feels too little/too late, thought, and it still feels like they’re mostly hostile to any kind of systemic change to respond.

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