California: Darkness, fire, and climate change
California has entered a “new dark age,” said Marcos Bretón in The Sacramento Bee. Last week, the state’s largest public utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), left millions of people in the dark after shutting off power to 738,000 homes and businesses in the northern part of the state. Amid an ongoing drought, PG&E said the blackout was necessary to avoid “power lines tumbling in high winds and igniting cataclysmic wildfires.” Schools and universities shuttered, traffic snarled, and one man died after his oxygen machine stopped working. In Los Angeles, a wildfire covering 8,000 acres did break out, forcing 100,000 people to be evacuated. For California, this is all part of “a new normal.” With severe, prolonged droughts now common, wildfires have increased fivefold since the early 1970s. “Climate change isn’t tomorrow. Climate change is now.”
Fires and blackouts need not be “the new normal,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Californians are “living like it’s 1899” precisely because their “overlords in Sacramento” overreacted to the threat of climate change. For years, PG&E “skimped on safety upgrades and repairs while pumping billions into green energy and electric-car subsidies” to please Democrats in the Statehouse. The utility paid, by Credit Suisse’s estimate, $2.2 billion more annually than it should have for contracts with renewable energy developers. Meanwhile, fierce environmental opposition to logging and managed burns has scattered 147 million dead trees across a landscape parched by a “seven-year drought.” It’s easy to blame the blackout on climate change, but “a perfect storm of bad policies” is the real culprit.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, said the Los Angeles Times. Yes, state authorities officially blamed PG&E for last year’s Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. But the utility didn’t approve all the housing development in high-risk, wooded areas or mismanage the state forests, and it didn’t cause climate change. “This bitter meal has been years in the making by many cooks.” Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades, said Justin Gillis in The New York Times. But “we did not listen.” We continued to elect climate-change deniers to high office. We burned “cheap and convenient” fossil fuels for our cars and for electricity. “Now we suffer the consequences.” Expect the situation to keep getting worse, unless our policies change.