Since mid-February, the world has watched as the citizens of Texas face the catastrophic consequences of an unprecedented winter storm that left millions without power and drinkable water in freezing temperatures. While the extent of the tragedy is still being processed, there are many questions about what went wrong.

Michael Menser, an associate professor of philosophy, urban sustainability, and Caribbean studies, lived on the Gulf Coast of Texas as a child. His familiarity with the situation is not only observational, but personal.

“Many have died. The Houston Chronicle reported that over 50 have died in Houston alone. Mostly freezing to death, mostly elderly,” says Menser, who is also a member of the board of the Center for the Study of Brooklyn whose areas of research include sustainability and resilience as well as participatory democracy.

On top of the devastating loss of human life, the tragedy has had profound economic impact, with property damage and energy bills skyrocketing to astronomical costs.

“There could be more than 125 billion dollars in damages, which would make it the most costly disaster in Texas history,” says Menser, author of We Decide! Theories and Cases in Participatory Democracy (Temple University Press, 2018).

Menser notes that Texas has seen numerous natural disasters in its recent past, many exacerbated by the effects of climate change. We talked to him about his insight into the current situation, its contributing factors, and how it can serve as an important lesson for the future.