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Outage Outrage

By Patrick Sullivan

"Maybe you should ask some of those old Eastern Bloc countries how they keep the lights on," taunted my little brother, calling from Texas to gloat over the blackouts rolling across California. "Maybe Iraq could help. Or there's always North Korea."

Then he hung up--but not before kindly offering to mail candles and batteries.

It might be tough to admit, but we deserve all those jibes, all those unfavorable comparisons to poverty-stricken Third World countries. Here we are, citizens of the wealthiest state in the most powerful nation in the world, sitting around in the dark.

Who's to blame? We could point the finger at the money-hungry energy suppliers that seem to have conspired to limit power supplies and send company profits through the roof. Or we could cast a cold eye on the politicians who pushed the state headfirst into the murky waters of energy deregulation--low-watt Wilson, who signed the bill, and dim-bulb Davis, who never saw this crisis coming.

Or we could blame PG&E and Southern California Edison, whose lobbyists pretty much wrote the deregulation rules that have put out the lights in the Golden State.

Or we could blame all of the above and still have room for one other culprit. Grab a candle, go into your bathroom, and--to paraphrase the ineffable wisdom of Michael Jackson--take a look at the man or woman in the mirror.

No, don't worry--this isn't another lecture about personal energy conservation, though God knows we could probably use one.

For far too long, ordinary citizens have assumed we can go about our busy lives and leave important matters like the power supply to folks at the top. Sure, the politicians and the lobbyists and the big corporations pick our wallets every chance they get, but at least they know what they're doing. At least the trains run on time, at least the economy keeps humming along, at least the power stays on. What's good for PG&E is good for the state.

Unfortunately, we forgot about greed, we forgot about shortsightedness, we forgot about stupidity. Now we get to pay the price.

Of course, there is one good thing about sitting around in the dark. Maybe we can't use the computer, or read, or watch TV. But it does give us plenty of time to think.

And that ought to have some folks up in Sacramento sweating bullets.

Patrick Sullivan is the Bohemian's associate editor.

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From the January 25-31, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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