Oh, the horror of it! The absolute scandal unfolding as over 100,000 Californians are having to go without electricity for several days. Restaurants are having to close and some school children are having endure the absolute nightmare of having their schools shut down. (I spoke with one ten-year old whose school had remained open. She looked very sad… I assume on behalf of the other kids who didn’t have the great joy of sitting in a classroom for six hours on a beautiful, sunny fall day.) A caller to a news show complained that she had had to undergo the unacceptable disruption
to her life because the gas station where she normally gets gas was shut down. California Governor Gavin Newsom, ever the man of the people, expressed it perfectly: “People are outraged as we (meaning himself) are.”
Northern California’s electric utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) shut down power grids in several areas due to predictions of high winds in an extremely dry time of year. Once shut down, they have to be inspected before they are powered back up. That’s because PG&E has to be sure that trees haven’t fallen across any line or that any towers haven’t collapsed. It’s exactly this sort of accident that has caused the massive and deadly wildfires throughout California in recent years.
Of course, PG&E is partly to blame. For instance, CBS news reported “Pacific Gas & Electric knew for years that dozens of its aging power lines posed a wildfire threat yet failed to replace or repair them, it was reported Wednesday. The company also reportedly spent $5 billion on shareholder dividends despite the need for repairs to decades-old equipment.”
One obvious step away from relying on above-ground power lines would be increased use of rooftop solar panels. But the electric utilities have opposed making that more attractive. Two years ago, the NY Times reported “a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities, which have been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.”
Global Climate Change
In the end, though, the real underlying cause of the shutdown is global climate change. It is this which is causing excessive dryness, lengthened fire seasons and unusually strong winds. This is just a little foretaste of what is to come as global climate change becomes a real, mass crisis, as sea level rise wipes out entire cities, whole areas go without water (as Durban, South Africa did for a time) and electric generators are wiped out.
Get used to it. This is what capitalism has in store for us.
Others used to it
And why shouldn’t we? After all, even today 14% of the global population – 1.1 billion people – live without access to electricity, not just for a few days, but 24/7, week in and week out.