Scramble and Scrabble by candlelight

Dear President Biden,

Yesterday the power went out and we ended up making scrambled eggs and playing Scrabble by candlelight (and a battery operated camping lantern). It wasn’t an especially strong wind gust – just 40 knots or about 46 MPH that caused it – but somehow it made the lights toggle on and off three times before they just went out and stayed out. This started at 3pm yesterday and from 3:04pm until sometime around 10pm we were without electricity. It was definitely not a micro-outage – 42,000 homes in the Seattle area and over 200,000 statewide were without power and as of this morning, some still didn’t have it back on. In many areas schools were closed today because of the outages.

The map of the US in the WP about the increasing frequency of weather-related (climate-related….) power outages indicates that unlike many other states, Washington has seen an overall decrease in the number of minutes of power outage from the averages across 2013-2015 to those across 2018-2020. Maybe it’s just a recency effect that’s skewing my perception, but I was pretty surprised to see this since at least in our spot in Washington state, it seems like we’ve been losing power quite a lot more often in the last few years than in years prior. And, of course, averages sweep up lots of longer and shorter (bigger/smaller, etc.) values to get a summary of what’s what that can gloss over lots – and lots – of wildly different experiences on the ground. Visual representations like the WP generally don’t even try to capture the variability in the datasets they’re presenting….

The upshot of this is that it may well be that we’ve actually been losing power in this part of the state more frequently in the past three-ish years than a bit longer ago, but since the power has never stayed off all that long here and there’s been no reported loss of life associated with it, I’m not going to belabor this point for me and my neighbors any further. Much more importantly, a recent study by the Rockefeller Foundation demonstrates pretty damn convincingly that during (and after) the horrible storm that knocked out much of the power grid in Texas this past February, areas that are predominantly occupied by minority people were markedly more likely to be without power than those predominantly occupied by White people. Poverty played a role too, but minority status was the bigger factor.

In setting up the rationale for conducting the study, the authors specifically speak to the problem of averages and how they obscure what’s going on on the ground for different groups of people. It’s like doing a climate survey in a workplace and just looking at the totals without seeing if the climate differs for women and men or for racial and ethnic minority people, etc.

It’s funny (not funny) how the WP article noted above that purports to unpack how utility companies and state regulators are not factoring in climate-related stresses to the system didn’t mention how these climate-related stresses to the system aren’t evenly distributed throughout the populace – that they tend to fall disproportionately on poorer communities, including both rural communities and urban communities of color. I don’t know – maybe they thought it was too much to pack into an already tetchy piece. Or maybe they think that a lot of people reading the WP are more interested in the threat to their own power (electrical and other sorts), so they don’t want to draw attention to disparities because it might undermine interest in addressing climate-related system stresses. Whatever the reasons for this glaring oversight, I hope you all are listening to people from historically (and currently) disenfranchised groups so that the infrastructure monies and the global warming mitigation monies are distributed where and how and to whom they are most needed.

May we ALL be safe.
May we all be willing to look out for everyone.
May we have the courage to park the divisive ‘me and mine’ thinking that is endangering us all.
May we accept that no fancy schmancy gated-whatevers are really going save anyone in the long run.

Tracy Simpson

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