California has always promised Americans a glimpse of the future. But this week, the Golden State is forecasting a future that nobody wants to live in.
Millions of people across California lost their power this week, after the local utility Pacific Gas and Electric intentionally shut off electrical lines to avoid starting wildfires in dangerously dry and windy conditions. The outage—termed a “public-safety power shutoff”—stretched hundreds of miles across the state’s northern half, dousing the lights in affluent Bay Area suburbs, on Sacramento Valley ranches, and in large coastal cities such as Eureka.
By yesterday afternoon, more than 600,000 customers faced a blackout, including hundreds of hospitals, the utility said. But that number belies the scale of the shutoff: An entire apartment building can count as a single “customer,” according to The New York Times.
In one sense, the blackout was caused by an overlapping set of crises—legal, financial, and ecological—that now confronts the state. But in a larger sense, it looked like a preview of mid-21st-century governance. When political leaders envision the century of climate change to come, they often speak of massive floods and dangerous droughts. But the experience of Californians this week—frustrated, needlessly inconvenienced, and saddled with aging infrastructure built for the wrong century—will define the mass experience of climate change as much as any deluge or inferno.