Under a state of emergency, Californians are watching in dismay as fast-burning fires rage across the state, destroying homes and businesses, scorching tens of thousands of acres, and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate.
These fires will continue to burn hotter, longer, and bigger without a concerted, transformational effort to address climate change in California. In the meantime, the short-sighted planned power outages implemented by energy utilities are also posing potentially dire long-term consequences.
Some experts claim the economic and human costs of preemptive power outages are incalculable. Pacific Gas & Electric deems these outages as a “new normal,” necessary to prevent its equipment from sparking a catastrophic fire under high winds and dry conditions. These types of shut-offs could last a decade as the company seeks to modernize its vast network.
While the devastating effects of both fires and outages are being felt by all Californians, they are not affecting them equally.
Skyrocketing home prices along the coast have pushed lower-income, struggling residents eastward into the most fire-prone regions of the state, putting them directly in harm’s way. And even as fires strike more affluent communities near the coast, their residents flee while domestic workers and laborers find themselves in danger after showing up, unwarned, for work.
Amid pre-emptive shutoffs, those with the most wealth can independently power their homes and businesses with generators and energy-battery storage. And when disaster does strike, they can rebuild homes sometimes worth more than the ones that burned.
Those who are already struggling the most, however, may never be able to fully recover…