As a group of brilliant scientists and engineers landed a research rover on the surface of Mars, ending an exquisitely complicated 300-million-mile journey, an interstellar tribute to the power of science, something very stupid was happening in Texas.
A state reeling from a deadly winter storm and a catastrophic loss of power was getting swept into a perversely anti-science, right-wing narrative parroted by nonsense-itarians like Tucker Carlson and Republican politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Just days before NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars, Carlson addressed the situation in Texas, where a winter storm crippled the state’s energy system: “Unbeknownst to most people, the Green New Deal came to Texas, the power grid in the state became totally reliant on windmills. Then it got cold, and the windmills broke, because that’s what happens in the Green New Deal.”
That news was “unbeknownst” to most people because it’s fabricated garbage Carlson was using to poison his viewers’ minds. The dreaded “Green New Deal” is a proposed resolution in Congress, not an actual thing that has been passed or implemented in Texas, on Mars or anywhere in the galaxy.
And even if the Green New Deal was anything more than a term Carlson uses to frighten people into thinking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is coming to steal their gas-powered leaf blowers, Texas’ power grid is in no way “totally reliant on windmills.”
Wind-generated energy makes up about 10% of the power generated in Texas during the winter months.
Michael Webber, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told PolitiFact: “The idea that wind is responsible for these outages is actually just absurd. It doesn’t match the facts on the ground, and it’s not what any energy expert would say.”
The main problem in Texas was the failure of thermal energy plants, which accounted for easily five times the amount of lost power when compared with frozen wind turbines.
But that didn’t stop the state’s governor from telling noted dishonesty enthusiast Sean Hannity of Fox News this: “Our wind and our solar got shut down, and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis. ... It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary.”
Of course it doesn’t show that at all, but Fox News still plastered viewers’ screens with chyrons like: “Frozen Wind Turbines Cause Blackouts in Texas”; “Real Impact of the Green New Deal Exposed”; and “Green Energy Disaster.”
Juxtapose this tsunami of anti-science lies and intentional idiocy with what happened Thursday, when a team of devoted humans again placed a rover on Mars. It gives a profound and dispiriting confirmation that present-day America is filled with diverse and brilliant people who are routinely undercut by ninnies.
In an age when a good 40% of the population seems to mock science and celebrate stupidity, this is an issue worth worrying about. Contrasted with a towering scientific achievement like the Perseverance rover, it raises the question: What kind of country do we want to be? One that flexes its intellect and makes the world better? Or one that wallows in ignorance, real or feigned, and manufactures little more than grievance?
I choose the space chasers over the gasbags.
Look at what the team at NASA accomplished Thursday. The craft that carried Perseverance millions of miles from Cape Canaveral to the atmosphere of Mars approached the planet at 12,000 mph. It used a 70-foot-wide parachute then rocket thrusters to slow down enough to carry the rover into an area surrounded by high cliffs and craters and deposit it in one piece on the ground. That was all done autonomously during a dramatic stretch of minutes in which control of the craft was out of NASA’s hands.
Once touchdown was confirmed, team members at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California jumped for joy and erupted in cheers and fist pumps. It was the glorious culmination of untold hours of work and planning, an opportunity to further explore the red planet and search for signs of past life in an area scientists believe once held a massive lake.
That’s an America to be proud of and celebrate, an America that uses facts, knowledge, truth and fearlessness to progress.
And then there’s Carlson and his band of babblers taking a serious crisis in Texas and using it to lie about green energy, with the sole aim being to “own the libs” and endear themselves to people who enjoy the sneering victimhood that has sadly come to represent today’s conservative movement.
The blame-the-windmills hysteria drew attention away from the Perseverance news, and that’s a shame, because rather than focusing on something awesome, many were focusing on lies and embracing willful ignorance, which is as far from awesome as Perseverance is from Earth.
As Americans, we choose what we celebrate. Do we herald a scientific achievement that advances human knowledge, or do we cheer an opportunity to advance a ludicrous anti-science narrative?
For the country’s sake, I hope more people choose Perseverance. It’s far more worthy of our admiration than pitiful poltroons.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.