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The little sort

·7 mins

Previously I wrote about leaving Texas due to climate change. I’m not the only one to have noticed the problem:

When he lived in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Chang said he took for granted being able to go for jogs outside or go hiking year-round. In Austin, he’s been forced to spend much of the year inside to avoid extreme temperatures and had to buy a treadmill to go running in the air conditioning.

“Literally, I can’t leave my house during the summers,” Chang said. “During the winter, it’s freezing relative to California.”

The winter problem is solving itself, kinda: Austin hit 32°C in February. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this summer goes. Minnesota winters wouldn’t have pleased Chang either; but at least when it’s -15ºC I can leave the house and take a pleasant walk. (It’s all about having the right clothing.)

We weren’t the first of our friends to leave Austin. Half a dozen friends had already moved away by the time we decided to, and last I checked another half dozen or so were actively investigating options. While organizing our exit we met other people — including lifelong Texans — who were planning to leave: the realtor we worked with said he’d like to leave but was stuck for the next couple of years; the car salesman we bought a Subaru from said he’s leaving as soon as his kids finish college; and so on, and so on. There’s a whole Reddit thread of people talking about their plans.

Not everyone is leaving because of climate change, of course; there are so many other reasons to leave Texas. I could talk about the traffic, or even the rapid gentrification destroying my favorite taco restaurant, but let me start with Texas’s utility infrastructure, which impacts the state’s ability to cope with the climate change.

In February 2021 a winter freeze caused gas power plants to fail, followed by the entire electrical grid. Water supplies then also failed in many areas. We had to evacuate our house; we had water when we were able to return a week later, but other parts of Austin were without water for a couple of weeks. Officially, 246 people died as a result of the utilities failing, but the real figure is probably triple that.

The grid nearly failed again in the summer of 2023 — it turns out Texas can’t deal with heatwaves either, and this is by design. In most states, electric power companies are paid according to how much power they produce. In Texas, they’re only paid for the amount they can sell in a (largely unregulated) marketplace, which means that they have zero motivation to hold additional capacity in reserve. In fact, when there’s a shortage, prices spike and they make out like bandits, which means they have a financial incentive to cut capacity.

Texas also can’t get power from other states when there’s a shortage. The state deliberately refuses to implement grid connections to any other state, because that would be interstate commerce, and Texas utilities would then have to follow federal regulations.

The Texas answer to this is to encourage Bitcoin miners to waste electricity on an industrial scale, and then pay them tens of millions of dollars to temporarily stop doing so when the grid is in trouble.

The gas suppliers also made a ton of money during the freeze because of price spikes — money the power generation companies couldn’t pay, so now Texas utility customers are going to be paying extra for the next 30 years to cover the profiteering. Gas systems haven’t been fixed, and when the state tried to persuade electricity companies to keep capacity in reserve, they simply refused.

Another good reason to leave Texas is if you’re a woman of childbearing age. Thanks to Texas’s draconian anti-abortion laws, a woman with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy was unable to get an abortion. It was a similar story for another woman with a non-viable pregnancy that could have threatened her life:

Texas’ ban is one of the most restrictive in the U.S. and backers of the law say it worked as designed this week, even while acknowledging Cox’s tragic circumstances.

Yes, the possibility of tragic deaths is the system working as designed. Obstetricians are now fleeing Texas. The state already had the highest medical prices in the US. Good luck getting medical care if you decide to become pregnant in Texas.

If you’re LGBTQ+ it’s also probably a good time to start planning your exit. The state began investigating parents of transgender teens for alleged child abuse. The state’s supreme court unanimously approved this, and Greg Abbott has called on people to report parents who allow their children gender-affirming medical care.

The Texas Republican Party officially considers being gay as an “abnormal lifestyle choice”, and lawmakers filed dozens of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2023. One gay person born in Texas writes:

I’m just one of about 10 to 12 friends who all moved from Texas to the Pacific Northwest over the past two years.

There are now realtors who specifically market to LGBTQ+ people trying to leave Texas:

“There’s a migration happening,” said Bob McCranie, owner of Texas Pride Realty Group, a realty group in Texas that focuses on selling homes to LGBTQ+ Texans. “This is a national state of emergency for LGBTQ people.”

McCranie also connects LGBTQ+ Texans looking to leave the state with affirming realtors in other states, something he said is necessary as dozens of states cut rights for queer people.

It’s getting so bad that it’s rumored some Texas-based tech companies are having trouble recruiting. You’d be surprised how much of the Internet is kept running by transgender furries.

Naturally not everyone is unhappy about Texas’s recent direction:

Jackie Burse, a self-identified Conservative, is one of the many Californians who have sought out Texas for its political environment.

In Texas, Burse said, there was “room for people to believe what they want without being shamed,” unlike in California.

I don’t know exactly what “conservative” beliefs she has; but if they’re the kind the Texas Republican party has, such as the belief that it’s OK if migrant children get slashed by razor wire, then maybe she should feel shamed.

The phenomenon of people moving between states to somewhere that fits their politics was described as a problem in 2008, in the book “The Big Sort”. Some are unconvinced that it’s actually happening. Polarization is increasing, but I’m inclined to think that it has more to do with the invention of the isolated right-wing media ecosystem in the mid 1990s. Still, it’s certainly possible that a big sort is occurring, and that it’s a problem. So should I be taking part in it?

All I can say is that I served my time. I voted, I protested, I served as election staff. I even tried politely complimenting Ted Cruz, and appealing to the sense of decency I assumed he must have somewhere deep inside. (He didn’t reply to my letters, not even with a form letter response.)

It’s probably hard for anyone under 30 to believe this, but when we moved to Texas there were some reasonable Republicans. At the time there was hope that Texas would become a “purple” state, with at least some bipartisanship and compromise and an end to gerrymandering. In reality, the exact opposite happened. Now, post Trump, the reasonable Republicans are gone.

That’s not just a leftist point of view, either. Multiple state Republican parties are broke or heavily in debt, because as one Minnesota Republican lobbyist put it:

“It’s not something people want to give money to when you’re just angry all the time and you don’t stand for anything and you’re not winning. And you have campaigns that are put up there that are not ready for prime time, and they don’t represent their districts and they’re saying wackadoodle things […] Nobody wants to give money to that.”

The big difference is that in Minnesota, the wackadoodle Republicans are mostly confined to the newspaper letters pages with their rants about “cultural Marxism”, whereas in Texas they’re in charge of the state government. I put up with it for years, but eventually it just wears you down, and then one day you realize you’re also being worn down by being trapped indoors for half the year, and you realize it’s time to go.