California is not a third world country.
This is what I was thinking as I headed to Safeway for a 20 pound bag of ice which I used to cool my fridge when the power was out for 5 days (Didn’t work, lost everything). Next I headed to Chevron to top off my tank just in case I got caught in a traffic jam during an evacuation or needed to flee Sonoma. Finally I checked the home items, which now have their own shelf in the garage: Candles, flashlights, headlamps, propane camping light and go bag.
I checked the status of the Kincade fire burning out of control above Healdsburg and discovered that PGE was planning a potential outage for high winds on Sunday. I was already three days behind in my classes and my failure rate is higher than ever because it’s kinda tough to teach or learn when you wake up without stability. Welcome to the new normal.
I am the frog in the slowly warming pot of water only now I can see the bubbles forming around the perimeter.
Thursday morning I woke up and made a fire in the fireplace. The house was cold, PGE said they would have power back on at 9:00 Wednesday night but that didn’t happen. My wife and I returned from a friend’s birthday party at Hopmonk at 9:07, full of hope but as we turned right on Riverside and looked down Lucas we could see that the hood was still dark.
Thursday was Halloween and I should have been putting on my sweet Bob Ross costume and heading to the classroom for a light day of learning. My colleague Holly dressed as Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials last year and really forced the rest of the staff to up their costume game. I was excited to see the results.
But there was no Flo, no Bob Ross, and no class because we woke up in a third world country without electricity. Sure, it was nice to wake up and make a fire, even though it was a no burn day, our fireplace is our only heat source when we do not have power so we can burn freely. I kinda liked the quiet of the morning without electricity, but I knew that soon, my neighbor’s generator would cut through the peace and the strain of the uncertainty about not having power would continue.
PGE has not done their job or rather the part of their job where they play the long game and upgrade the power infrastructure for a changing world. Is it really their fault if no one saw the immediacy and threat that an aging infrastructure would cause? Yes, it is their fault, but isn’t it past time to make some connections about what it all means?
California is the world in a smaller form. We are all suffering from an outdated infrastructure and a changing climate but are we helping solve these problems? Is it also our responsibility?
PGE is responsible for maintaining the tilting electrical pole outside my front gate. I pay my $200-$400 bill each month. Have they done anything in the 20 years I’ve lived in my house? Nope. Well, aside from providing daily gas and electricity.
Have their executives made boatloads of money in those 20 years? Yep about 72K from me alone. Will it help to turn off the electricity during increasingly strong (due to climate change) Diablo winds so if the pole blows down, they can replace it before it burns down my house? Maybe.
Is it OK to turn off the entire grid in California to prevent future problems? Not a chance.
But let’s not wallow. Let’s encourage PGE to play the long game and start rebuilding the infrastructure now (tough to do when you are heading toward bankruptcy and everyone hates you). Put the power lines underground and promote clean energy sources that will eventually make homes self-sufficient. Support alternative energy companies like Sonoma Clean Power and, as I’ve written about 60,000 times, REDUCE FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCE.
Monday morning I’m back in the classroom reading the “Classroom Checkin: Post Fire/PSPS” provided by my administration. I rode my bike this morning thinking correctly that I might need some extra endorphins. Students are a little unsettled which is usual for Monday but there are no great stories of fire trauma, just Halloween party mishaps. I explain how I am going to condense the Algebra and Geometry curriculum to fit the remaining days in the semester (I am now about three weeks behind the pacing guide from SVHS which I am trying to follow this year). I test the waters with a brief discussion about causes of the fires but no one seems to care. We move into positive and negative linear associations.
At 3:00 the president pulls America out of the Paris Climate Accord.
I ride home wondering how many more beautiful Fall days California has left before turning into a third world country.