Fuck PG&E

Fuck PG&E straight to hell on a bumpy dirt road with a rusty length of rebar and gasoline lubricant.

In shutting off power for a broad swath of northern California, PG&E has essentially declared that they are a terrible and incompetant company that has mismanaged what should be a public utility, and done a pitiful job of maintaining the region’s electrical infrastructure.

The justification for the massive power shutoff is that high winds may damage power lines and that, coupled with dry conditions, could spark a fire. Seems semi-reasonable, no? Except when you question why such a catastrophe is only avoidable by shutting off power for hundreds of thousands of people. As I write this, I am sitting outside in the Santa Anna winds, the “extreme wind event” that PG&E and the local emergency alert system were clamoring about for a couple days prior. I’ll admit, it’s pretty damn windy. Dust and leaves are flying. Trees are waving their branches in the air like they just don’t care. But I wouldn’t call it anything phenomenal. And if PG&E had spent the past years preparing for such very foreseeable events, ensuring the strength and stability of the state’s electrical infrastructure, it wouldn’t be an issue. They chose instead to rake in profits while letting the equipment entrusted to them, that we all rely upon, rot, rust, and fall into disrepair.

PG&E has been directly responsible for wildfires in the past, including the current fire in Sonoma. This action of shutting off power is their confession that they can’t be trusted not to do it again. They’ve done such a horrible job that the only way they can avoid doing worse is by not doing their job at all. A company whose management of a utility is so poor that they cannot allow it to operate without the likelihood of burning down half the state has no right to it. No private corporation should have any right to any public utility. PG&E provides one of the most glaring reasons why.

On a personal level, this days-long blackout isn’t too big a deal. It’s inconvemient, an annoyance, but I cope more easily than some under these conditions. I can get by fine without wi-fi, tv or lights. The biggest obstacles are perhaps that I’ll have to post this on a later date, after power’s restored, and that I have to grind my coffee by hand. (I pressed the button twice on my electric grinder before remembering that I’m an idiot. But no worries; a bowl and a coconut oil jar work well in a pinch.) What worries me are the people who need, literally need reliable electricity to live. I believe that hospitals, like some supermarkets, in the region have private generators. But what about nursing homes, or people cared for at home who need respirators or other essential medical equipment to live? What if there’s a serious emergency? Or hundreds of them? No internet. Phones don’t work. My own cell service is awful becuase I guess cell towers require electricity and don’t have generators.) Also, Sprint is trash, like all mobile providers.) Think of all the people who could be hurt and have no way to get help.

Keep in mind, too, that no power means no street lights, no traffic lights. To the small extent that I’ve driven during the blackout, it was slow going. One positive thing I have to say is that the people driving in my extended neighborhood are generally behaving well. The blank lights at intersections are being treated as stop signs, drivers stopping and waiting their turns. I only personally witnessed a few exceptions to this, and did what I could to reprimand offenders on behalf of the community by shouting expletives and showing them my second favorite fingers.

A frequent sound during the blackout has been that of sirens. Some police, but mostly of

ambulances and fire trucks. Good to know emergency services are managing to stay on top of things (in the case of the fire departments and emergency medical responders; fuck the police:)), but they’re definitely more active now than under normal conditions, giving evidence to the worry that cutting power increases the chances of bad shit happening. Beyond standard injuries, I don’t even want to know how many accidental fires were started during the shutoff. Makes sense: cut off people’s power, make it so they can’t cook indoors, or can’t do so conveniently, and they can’t go to restaurants, and their refrigerators are useless, speeding up the expiration on whatever food they have, and people are going to grill. I’ve smelled and heard evidence of cookouts all over. Easy to surmise, given the heavy goddamn winds and dry conditions that precipitated the shutoff, that some fires were started. PG&E is protecting their own ass, seeing to it that they can’t be held directly responsible for another disaster, while laying the groundwork for other potential disasters.

On the topic of potential emergencies and communication services being mostly down: PG&E sent out a message prior to the blackout with a website where they’d be posting updates. How the actual fuck is anyone suppposed to see those updates without internet? Further evidence of the company’s idiocy and incompetence. And what if there are alerts about, say, a wildfire? An evacuation? No idea how I’d hear about that.

PG&E needs to go. This catastrophe should be taken as an opportunity to undo the mistake of having privatized the region’s electrical grid in the first place. No corporation can be trusted with essential utilities for the simple fact that they will always put personal profit over safety and servicing the public. Shut down PG&E, sue it, its executives and board members for everything they’ve bled from the community, and put management of the grid back under public ownership and control.

Let’s not forget that at the core of this problem are capitalism and climate change. It is primarily because of the climate crisis that such devastating wildfires have become more common. It is because of unregulated industrial capitalism that society is afflicted with the climate crisis. It is because of the privatization model of neoliberal capitalism that we are so ill prepared. Capitalism and climate change are working in concert, fucking us in a circuitous system of greed, exploitatation and destruction.

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