California has had a rough few years. Between social unrest, rising rent in major cities, homelessness, earthquakes and, most devastatingly, uncontrollable forest fires, the state has had its fair share of crises to deal with.
In the past year, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. have found themselves at the center of this catastrophe. Their systems were one of the key causes of the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history that ravaged the state last winter. Determined to prevent another, state officials invented “Public Safety Power Shutoff,” or scheduled blackouts, according to The New York Times.
This is not something any major electric company has ever done in the past and is exceptionally ill-conceived. California Governor Gavin Newsom said, “The current conditions and circumstances are unacceptable.” That’s certainly one way of putting it. PG&E itself stated that one of its major transmission lines was “probably responsible for the most destructive wildfire in state history.” This is in reference to the Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people and destroyed the entire town of Paradise, Calif.
If the company can admit to being responsible for a wildfire that claimed dozens of lives and hundreds, if not thousands, of homes, why aren’t they being held to a higher standard? One would assume that a company with as much history, wealth and power as PG&E would have more options up its sleeve than “shut off the power that customers pay for.” But as the company falls deeper into bankruptcy following these fires and shutoffs, there seems to be solutions in sight.
In the early morning of Oct. 9, 750,000 PG&E customers found themselves without power—an amount that could actually impact more than 1 million people. Customers who pay for services, namely electricity, are counting on their homes operating at a normal level. When the announcement of the shut-off began, so many people flocked to PG&E’s website that it crashed and left people in the dark, literally and metaphorically.
All of this shines a light on one pressing issue at the heart of the wildfires and blackouts: climate change. As the United States and President Trump continue to rollback preventative measures to deal with climate change—such as lack of control regarding air pollution and emissions, according to The New York Times—the threat looms closer and more dangerous.
Perhaps nowhere is more pressing in 2019 than in California, where thousands were evacuated because of the Maria Fire in Southern California that started on Halloween, according to CBS News.
Dealing with an ever-warmer world will continue to present challenges the longer the problem of climate change is left largely unchecked by capitalism, consumerism and the U.S. But PG&E’s response is the easiest choice they could have made in the shortest amount of time: simply turn off the power people are relying on, whether they’ve agreed to it or not. As Gov. Newsom said, “This cannot and will not be the new normal.”
He also touched on a very important point: PG&E dug themselves into this hole, and now the rest of California is paying for it. PG&E has “had decades of mismanagement, decades of greed,” according to the governor. He couldn’t be more accurate.
Why does a mismanaged company, falling further into bankruptcy with every charge against them, get to decide when Californian residents do or don’t have power? What about the people who rely on it for medical devices, or people who can’t afford to buy more food if their fridge isn’t operational for over a day? The new normal can’t become a dystopian wasteland of spotty power and ignorant companies picking and choosing when, where and who gets power on any given day.
Maria Pawlak is an English and political science major freshman who wants to only read The Outsiders for the rest of time.