California: A Return to the Dark Ages

Woman complaining during a blackout sitting on a couch in the living room at home

Twenty counties, around two million people, suddenly living in the dark. All electrical power is cut off. Plastic jugs for fuel and generators are completely cleared from store shelves. The mail and shipping are disrupted and unpredictable. Traffic accidents befall unexpected commuters when interstates and intersections abruptly blackout. Nursing homes, police and fire stations scramble to find ways of continuing their services. Charcoal and ice are in short supply or are unavailable; the people prepare meals of cold canned goods and bread or crackers. Many ill and elderly forego showering for fear the freezing cold water in conjunction with the chill fall nights will have fatal results.

Better get used to it

You aren’t reading a post-apocalypse tale. You are reading about California last week, and by all predictions, you’ll be reading about them being in the dark about 12 to 15 times a year from now on. PG&E, California’s investor-owned power company, decided it was better to let the masses suffer rather than run the risk that predicted high winds could cause downed lines and forest fires. PG&E took photos of a few downed lines in hopes of appeasing those who are enduring and who will be enduring a future of regularly living in the dark. 

A planned disaster that wasn’t well planned

Democratic Governor Gavin Newson had plenty to say about the cuts: “It was clear from the start that PG&E implemented this extraordinary measure with astounding neglect and lack of preparation.” And indeed there was a lack of preparation. 

Many residents had less than twenty-four hours notice of the cuts – making preparations, especially for the states lower-income residents, nearly impossible. Many of them were unable to get their medication refilled or find batteries for their required medical equipment. PG&E made little to no effort to find out how many people were medically dependent on reliable power. They went only by their list of their account holders who get a reduced rate for medical reasons. Were they really too dense or unconcerned to think that maybe there are residents who use and need power, but aren’t the ones responsible for paying the bill? What about renters, mobile home parks and others? 

This is not a climate change story

Is this really PG&E’s fault? Or is it California’s comeuppance? For decades California has not taken care of its forests the way it should. Before, the state’s timber industry was allowed to clear-cut swaths of land, creating areas of relatively small trees and scrub. These areas acted as natural fire breaks and made fires that occurred easier to manage. This fell out of favor with the Californian higher powers. Along with clear cutting, controlled burns were no longer allowed. All the brush and undergrowth of the forest was permitted to remain, ready to act as tinder for the next accidental, uncontrolled burn.

Even Gov. Newsom agrees: “This is not, from my perspective, a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades.”

Let us not forget the “not in my backyard” higher classes in the major cities refusing to allow more housing to be built close to jobs in the city. More and more Californians are being forced to live farther and farther out in the country just to find a place to live. Those living out that far are sitting ducks for wildfires.

Somehow, out of good intentions, California has paved its own road to a dark and firey hell.