All POWER To The People
Dana Williams
Lord Acton once said that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although he was not referring to electrical power, the same could be true in the following case. On Thursday August 14th, 2003, electrical power went down in much of the Northeastern US and Eastern Canada. Most of this power was generated by highly-centralized private power, in an “absolute power” sort of way.

Speaking as someone who was in the dark for roughly five hours on Thursday night in Ohio, it was a great opportunity for us to reflect on the really important things in life. Regarding energy policy, it makes perfect sense for the US (and the American people) to start seriously considering a few things.

First, we should decentralize all power production facilities. Think about how tough it is to accidentally or intentionally take down things like the Internet. (Or terrorist cells, for that matter). This is a wise policy that would create more local decision making ability, autonomy, efficiency, stability, and creates fewer opportunities for problems to occur. Decentralization can also help fend off private monopolies and price gouging.

Second, we need to convert present production facilities to alternative energy. Why the fuck are we continuing to increase coal and nuclear consumption when amazing technology exists for solar, wind, and other renewable power? Most of the existing energy resources are non-renewable, dangerous to the environment (in both extraction and utilization terms), and fuel (no pun intended) US wars for resources (especially oil).

Third, stop the absurd deregulation efforts that have been occurring in the US. Whether it's from Enron or the Niagara-Mohawk Power Company or First Energy, in the California energy crisis or on the Eastern seaboard, privatization is stupid. Just look at what happens in places like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or in so many countries where the power company has been privatized. Privatization does not benefit the individual citizens who use electricity, it benefits the shareholders of that particular company, while removing control over its actions, prices, and energy from the hands of consumers.

Finally, we all need to stop using so much damn energy!! Many of the main elements of our economy can help us consume less. Houses can be built so much more energy efficient these days and cars can be (but aren't being) made more gasoline efficient. Overarching national-priorities should be established, but first discussed and pursued locally. Back in the late 1970's, the Carter administration started some good energy conservation programs (subsequently ended by Reagan) that are even more needed now. The US has roughly five percent of the world's population, but uses as much as 40 percent of its resources. If other countries began to consume electricity on the level of the US, the world would be in the shitter real fast.

Some of this occurred to me as I was biking around Thursday evening (since the roads were so empty!!), but even before that, when I was riding a bus back from Cleveland, Ohio another thought hit me-- now we have a small idea about what Iraq is going through right now, and have been going through for nearly 14 years. Refrigeration, water pumps, air conditioning, etc.... all useless. Whether it's due to US bombs or accidents in New York state, we have to start thinking about the foreseeable consequences of our actions and lifestyles.

Hopefully the American people can begin to expand their world view in order to realize that their overindulgence is at the root of many problems. They also need to realize that there is a world outside of the US,a nd that our actions have even more direct impacts on it than just hogging all the resources-- if it takes a blackout for 50 million Americans to realize how hard life is for a populace with no electricity, than maybe good things can come from it. If the American people subsequently can understand that tax-paid bombs that fell on Baghdad and Basra in Iraq destroyed some of the most basic means to survive in the modern world, and walk away from this reality with a strong sense of moral revulsion, the blackouts will have been well worth it (with notable exceptions of accidents and harm done to those whose lives our dependent upon electricity such as in hospitals).

This time may not have been a “terrorist” attack (although in some ways it might have been), but next time it might be. Hopefully, the American people will avoid the fear-mongering that will call for more reactive, defensive measures, and instead push for proactive solutions that do not blame “the evil-doers” and deals with the root problems in our own backyards (and power stations).