Wednesday, September 02, 2020

The problem in California is poverty, not climate change

The heatwaves and the fires are natural – the electricity blackouts are not.

California is once again at the frontline of Gaia’s revenge. Climate change has been cited as the cause of a heatwave afflicting the state, causing the governor, Gavin Newsom, to declare a state of emergency and announce rolling blackouts. Worse, the heatwave has created the conditions for wildfires to break out, destroying thousands of properties. But are these very serious problems really caused by environmental degradation, as many greens claim?

Environmentalists claim that solving the ‘climate crisis’ also means solving the problem of social injustices, including poverty and inequality. Whether or not the current heatwaves can be linked to anthropogenic climate change, California is a real-world test of environmentalists’ claim. And they have failed the test spectacularly; the world should take notice of this fact.

At the very moment California’s vulnerable population need to escape the heat, not just for comfort but also for health reasons, the state’s grid has collapsed. Aircon, fridges, even ceiling fans all fell silent when the wind dropped, the sun set and the demand for electricity exceeded what little capacity remained on the grid.

Had California’s power been supplied from coal, gas or nuclear, supply might have stood a chance of reaching demand. But instead, California has the most ambitious green-energy agenda in the US. Between 2009 and 2018, supply from coal, gas and nuclear generators fell from eight per cent, 42 per cent and 13 per cent respectively, to three per cent, 35 per cent and nine per cent. Meanwhile, renewable sources, mainly wind and solar, have nearly tripled. This has put a burden on the supply grid, which cannot cope with the intermittent nature of renewables.

California’s energy problems did not begin in 2009, however. In the early 2000s, an electricity crisis was caused by the criminal practices of utilities company Enron. The state’s poor regulatory framework enabled Enron to inflict supply shortages on the grid during peak demand, causing blackouts and forcing the wholesale price of electricity to spiral out of control. This in turn caused less rapacious energy retailers to lose billions of dollars, and some to go bust.

In the scandal that followed the collapse of Enron, internal memos emerged, revealing that Enron had long seen its future in emissions-trading schemes. Through the 1990s, Enron had hired lobbyists to push for the Kyoto Protocol, and had been the first corporation to understand that more money could be taken from the consumer by creating scarcity than by generating electricity. ‘Negawatts’, rather than megawatts, is the green dream.

Events leading up to today’s power cuts follow a bizarre history. The fact that advanced economies need a continuous supply of power is well understood. Yet for three decades, the political agenda, dominated by self-proclaimed ‘progressives’, has put lofty green idealism before security of supply and before the consumer’s interest in reasonable prices. Even if the heatwaves experienced by California were caused by climate change, are their direct effects worse than the loss of electricity supply?

California’s green and tech billionaires, and its business and political elites, certainly seem to think so. But they are largely protected from reality by vast wealth, private security, gated estates, and battery banks. The high cost of property in the state of California means that, despite being the fifth largest economy in the world, and with the sixth highest per capita income in the US, it is the worst US state for poverty. According to the US Census Bureau, around 18 per cent of Californians, some seven million people, lived in poverty between 2016 and 2018 – more than five per cent above the US average.

As well as being the greenest (and most poverty-stricken) state, California can also boast that it is the No1 state for homelessness. According to the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, there are more than 151,000 homeless people in California – a rise of 28,000 since 2010. That figure is shocking enough, but it masks the reality of many thousands more moving in and out of homelessness. The same agency reports that more than a quarter of a million schoolchildren experienced homelessness over the 2017/18 school year.

It is degenerate politics, not climate change, that presses hardest on the millions of Californians who live in poverty, and the many millions more who live just above the poverty line. The problems of this degenerate politics are visible, on the street, chronic and desperate, whereas climate change, if it is a problem at all, is only detectable through questionable statistical techniques. Yet California’s charismatic governors, since Arnold Schwarzenegger, have made their mark on the global stage as environmental champions.

At the 2017 COP23 UNFCCC conference in Bonn, Germany, then governor Jerry Brown shared a platform with the green billionaire and former New York mayor, Mike Bloomberg, to announce ‘America’s Pledge on Climate’ – a commitment of states and cities to combat climate change – despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement earlier that year.

But why not a pledge on homelessness? Why not a pledge to address the problem of property prices? Why not a pledge to tackle poverty? Why not a pledge to secure a supply of energy? The only conceivable answer is that environmentalism is a form of politics that is entirely disinterested in the lives of ordinary people, despite progressive politicians’ claims that environmental and social issues are linked. Clearly they are not in the slightest bit linked. California was the experiment, and now it is the proof: environmentalism is worse for ‘social justice’ than any degree of climate change is.

What about the wildfires? Aren’t they proof of climate change? It is a constant motif of green histrionics that more warming means more fires. But as has been pointed out before on spiked and elsewhere, places like California have long suffered from huge fires; fire is a part of many types of forests’ natural lifecycle.

What California’s rolling blackouts and its uncontrolled fires tell us is that green politics is completely divorced from any kind of reality. Environmentalism is the indulgent fantasy of remote political elites and their self-serving business backers. If California doesn’t prove this, what would?


Reducing the Devastation of California Wildfires

On August 24, 2020, The Wall Street Journal printed an article by Ian Lovett, "California Wildfires Grow as Responders Brace for More Blazes ."  Mr. Lovett states that California has dealt with a series of devastating fire seasons in recent years, which scientists say is in large part due to climate change, as hotter temperatures dry out vegetation, making it more likely to burn.

In a new Science & Policy Brief, Jim Steele, Director emeritus of San Francisco State's Sierra Nevada Field Campus, responds with a more accurate assessment for the trend in California wildfires and what Californians must do to reduce the damage caused by wildfires.

This Science & Policy Brief is available on the CO2 Coalition website at

Email from The CO2 Coalition:

California Blackouts Result From Intermittent Renewable Energy Sources

California has been on the forefront of transitioning to more renewable energy. Thirty-three percent of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources. But the heatwave that’s hitting the Western United States is posing a challenge for California’s energy grid.

Rolling blackouts have affected hundreds of thousands of Californians the past few weeks. Here’s something not obvious about the term “blackout:” It’s not just the lights that are out. Critically, it’s the HVAC systems, too. Summer blackouts are hot. This puts residents’ health at risk due to excessive heat exposure and further challenges all those working from home during this pandemic. All of this is due to an overly-aggressive push in the state to increase renewable energy dependency, despite not having the technology to make it reliable for Californian residents.

The blackouts are the result of a difficult-to-manage power grid. In the evening, as the heat peaks and people come home from work, people turn on their air conditioning and other devices. Throughout the state, electricity demand surges just in time for the sun to set and solar power to stop, reducing the amount of state-generated energy available. 

This is an extreme example of the difficulties posed by the intermittent nature of many renewable energy sources. California usually can make up for the lost solar power by importing electricity from other Western states, as well as by using energy generated at the natural gas-fired power plants in California. But with the heat wave hitting across the Western US, other states have less excess power to help California make up the deficit.

What makes this difficult situation most frustrating is that these blackouts were foreseen: Despite warnings from top officials at California’s power grid last year that blackouts were inevitable if a heat wave hit the Western United States, California did not make any change to their energy source structure to prepare for this eventuality.

Moreover, while California has prioritized increasing their renewable energy sources in recent years, it has been making it harder to succeed by discouraging the use of another source of carbon-neutral energy: nuclear power plants. 

Nuclear power is often overlooked in discussions about renewable energy sources, as people usually focus on wind, solar, and water. But nuclear power has an important role to play as a very reliable and efficient source of carbon-neutral energy. It doesn’t face the same challenges with intermittency and storage as other clean energy sources, and, when done responsibly, can be a very safe and efficient source of power. Unfortunately, in 2018, California  state regulators agreed to close the last nuclear energy power plant in the state. The Diablo Canyon plant currently generates power for 1.7 million homes, making up almost 9 percent of in-state electricity production without emitting greenhouse gases. It is set to stop providing this power in 2024.

If California is already unable to manage the state’s energy needs during a heat wave when Diablo Canyon is still running, imagine the difficulties they’ll face once it closes down.

California should reconsider its approach to the laudable goal of reducing carbon emissions and using more clean energy. Clean energy is increasingly efficient and reliable, and will become more so as technology, and particularly battery storage, improves. However, California’s rush to force the state to rely on renewable energy--and especially to discourage the use of nuclear power--threats this progress. California’s have long faced sky-high energy costs because of the push to force a reliance on select renewable energy sources. Now, people faced with blackouts and the very real harms they cause are likely to become frustrated and demand new energy policies. 

Mandates that push states to depend on energy sources that are not yet reliable and capable of meeting people’s needs are dangerous and counterproductive in terms of long-term improvements to the environment. America has become a leader in reducing carbon emissions because of our ability to innovate. We need to continue to encourage the research and development of more efficient and effective clean technology systems. This process, not government dictates, is what will assure that we continue to improve the environment and keep our planet healthy, but without sacrificing the safety and well-being of people alive today.


California Democrats Destroy Once-Successful State

It is now August in California.

Green Napalm

So we can expect the following from our postmodern state government. There are the now-normal raging wildfires in the coastal and Sierra foothills. And they will be greeted as if they are not characteristic threats of 500 years of settled history, but leveraged as proof of global warming as well as the state’s abject inability to put them out.

When the inept state can’t extinguish them as it has in the past, it suggests that it’s more “natural” to let them burn. Jerry Brown’s team told us that the drought’s toll — millions of dead trees and tens of millions of acres of parched grass and calcified shrubs on hillsides — provided a natural source of food and shelter for bugs and birds and thus need not be grazed or thinned or harvested. And so the wages of drought could be in a sense good for an “ecosystem” that otherwise proved to be green napalm for the people of foothill communities.

We can expect power outages, because we don’t believe in releasing clean heat to make energy. Note that we do not mind people heating up in their 108-degree apartments without power. The planet is always more important than the non-privileged people who inhabit it.

For some reason, solar panels don’t create much power when the state is engulfed in dust, haze, and smoke.

Note the synergism of the California postmodern apocalypse: The hotter it gets, the more fires burn on ecological fuel and hillside natural “compost,” the smokier the air becomes, the less efficiently California’s solar pathway to the future generates, the more power outages ensue, the more real people are put in danger from either being incinerated by fire or suffocated by smoke or boiled inside without air conditioning. Last week, I asked an elderly patient at the allergy clinic whether, in the 108-degree heat, he preferred to stay outside to breathe smoke and haze, or stay inside his uncooled apartment. He gave a novel answer: He didn’t care about the power outages since he couldn’t pay the exorbitant electricity charges anyway to turn on his air conditioner. And he added that, in California these days, you can’t tell whether mask wearers are fighting the virus, the smoke, or the police.

We can expect shortages of water, because the state blocks new reservoirs and aqueducts, and drains those we do have to send millions of acre-feet to the sea. State officials now suddenly stop bashing “last generation” hydroelectric power as not really “green” (after all, dams are not quite “natural”) and instead try to use every last drop of stored water to generate hydroelectricity amid brownouts, scorching temperatures, and fires.

We can expect lots of crime, because in fear of COVID-19 and in line with no-to-little bail policies, lots of criminals roam our streets. The state was once far safer after the adoption of the three-strikes law, but as crime radically declined, the imprisoned criminal, not his prey, was recalibrated as a victim. Gun sales are soaring, in the bluest of states, as if carjackers and home invaders just might not extend exemption to the woke.

California, as some of the Democratic primary candidates bragged last year, is the progressive model of the future: a once-innovative rich state that is now a civilization in near ruins. The nation should watch us this election year and learn of its possible future.

After one of the primary debates in late 2019, I drove to San Francisco. On checking into the hotel, I was reminded (off the record) by the officious hotel doorman of the city’s Third World protocols:

1) Do not park your car on the street, because it most surely will have its windows smashed and its contents stolen, and the police will either not respond if called or the city would not prosecute the criminal if arrested.

2) Check the soles of your shoes before entering the hotel lobby to ensure that human feces or needle remnants are not stuck to the bottoms.

3) Do not offer food/money/“help” if walking along nearby homeless corridors, given the uncertain and possibly violent reaction that such outreach might incur.

As he warned me, I kept thinking of scenes in the Hitchcock films of a 1950s San Francisco with streets that were clean and safe, with people polite and mannered. No doubt that world is written off now as racist and exploitive by the morally superior San Francisco of the woke, who 60 years later have created their own wasteland and called it civilization. Once-successful civilizations implode not only from moral laxity, debt, inflation, and luxury, but also from a sort of psychological stasis by which the bureaucracy would rather die in place as it is than change and survive.

How to Destroy a Once-Successful State

I wonder whether their high-tech world reflects or advances such moral regress? Is there some strange unexplored relationship between having sophisticated phone apps that can plot San Francisco’s walking routes to ensure they’re free of human feces, and the fact that human feces from the progressive paradise on the sidewalks are thus far more common than they were 60, 70, or 80 years ago?

Our beleaguered governor Newsom is no longer just leveraging the lockdown and boasting of the virus as “an opportunity for reimagining a more progressive era.”

Instead, he is now worried about our the Frankensteinian Green New Deal state that he, in his earlier political incarnations, helped create: “We cannot sacrifice reliability as we move on.”

That means something like, “We built so many subsidized solar and wind farms, and retired or canceled so many clean-burning natural-gas power plants, that we don’t have enough electricity for 40 million sweltering residents when the annual green napalm hits.” Who would have figured?

So Newsom has announced that his state’s shutting off the power without much warning is “unacceptable.” He fears there will be lots of blackouts if the heat wave and fires continue.  Apparently, Newsom now has some doubt that we have really “move[ed] on” to a green utopia. Could someone hooked up on electrically dependent dialysis actually be more important than taking a ranting call from billionaire Tom Steyer?

I would add lots to the governor’s list of California lapses: It might have been a mistake to cancel water projects, like the raising of dams on large existing reservoirs central to the California Water Project and Central Valley project, or the construction of the planned Sites Reservoir, or the Los Banos Grandes or Temperance Flat proposed reservoirs. The Left is instead talking about destroying dams in the far north of the state that store water, generate clean electricity, and stop flooding. We haven’t seen such year-zero nihilism since Mao unleashed the Red Guard.

Some 30 million of 40 million Californians live crowded along a desert-like coastal strip from La Jolla to Berkeley, with a water storage system designed for 20 million state residents that is now woefully inadequate. Yet most in the Bay Area seem to oppose more water-transfer investments.

Their ideology dictates that “dams are bad because they are unnatural and won’t allow rivers to run to the sea as we read about in the mid 19th century.”

Their new reality answers, “How else can we supply water in a state where two-thirds of the precipitation falls where one-third of the population lives, and two-thirds live where one-third falls?”

Is not the most green of all methods of power generation, the cheapest way to store water, the best method to stop flooding, and the most scenic of opportunities for recreation a mountain reservoir that allows gravity-driven water to create electricity, ensures water will flow to the cities without much pumping, stops flooding that destroys civilization, provides water for irrigated food, and endows the middle classes with clean, natural outdoor relaxation?

Was it not a mistake, Governor Newsom, for premodern California to attempt postmodern high-speed rail?

The skeleton of a now mostly canceled high-speed-rail project looms like Stonehenge about 15 miles from where I live. The frozen overpasses remain half-built and are now stained with graffiti. They are religious totems to a now discredited post-viral, post-quarantine, post-rioting/defund-the-police urban model of cramming citizens into trains to send them into crammed stations and on into crammed elevators up to crammed offices and apartments — whose thin margin of safety and efficacy hinges on mayors such as Bill De Blasio, Ted Wheeler, and Lori Lightfoot.

On one side of the high-speed proposed corridor, Amtrak trains sit still on their side turnouts while trains on the opposite side roar by. Would it have been wiser to first create two parallel Amtrak tracks to facilitate nonstop train travel than spend ten times more on a pipe dream now wafting away? Again, when California cannot solve the premodern problem, it hides its impotence by futilely pursuing the postmodern fantasy.

On the other eastern parallel side, Freeway 99 is often backed up with traffic because of constant ad hoc reconstruction. The old 1960s goal of having six lanes in the state’s major central longitudinal freeway was never realized — given the Jerry Brown theory that the worse California roads became, the slower traffic would move, and thus the more that exasperated commuters would cry uncle to mass or high-speed transit.

Might it also have been smarter not to raise income taxes on top tiers to over 13 percent? After 2017, when high earners could no longer write off their property taxes and state income taxes, the real state-income-tax bite doubled. So still more of the most productive residents left the state.

Yet if the state gets its way, raising rates to over 16 percent and inaugurating a wealth tax, there will be a stampede. It is not just that the upper middle class can no longer afford coastal living at $1,000 a square foot and $15,000–$20,000 a year in “low” property taxes.

The rub is more about what they get in return: terrible roads, crumbling bridges, human-enhanced droughts, power blackouts, dismal schools that rank near the nation’s bottom, half the nation’s homeless, a third of its welfare recipients, one-fifth of the residents living below the poverty level — and more lectures from the likes of privileged Gavin Newsom on the progressive possibilities of manipulating the chaos. California enshrined the idea that the higher taxes become, the worse state services will be.

Or is the state’s suicide one Orwellian nightmarish plan? The worse California becomes, the less attractive it will be for illegal immigrants? The more who flee, the more affordable will be their abandoned homes? The fewer Californians, the less need for water and power? The more congested the ossified highways, the fewer will try to drive? The more the middle class shrinks, the more powerful the wealthy and the more dependent the poor?

The New Dark Ages

Through history, Dark Age man relies on his own arms for protection. He travels as little as possible. He trusts no stranger. He has no state service for aid. He fears disease, eats no food not his own, and does not ever sleep far from home. And he prefers only those of this tribe. In other words, whether 900 b.c. or a.d. 900 or 2020, he is a Californian.

It might have been wiser for Newsom and his predecessors to have ensured a secure border and legal, diverse, meritocratic, and measured immigration. Some 27 percent of the state was not born in the U.S. They arrived at a time when California was championing sanctuary cities and a “diversity” K–12 curriculum, and the state was treating with contempt the ancient idea of the melting pot.

The state’s implicit message to new arrivals was that the now long dead who built California — which everyone wished to come to — were racists deserving of contempt and Trotskyization, despite immigrants’ dependence on their strange 1950s and 1960 freeways, UC/CSU/JC master education plan, once-modern airports, and ingenious water projects.

The result of lots of fresh newcomers, a politicized education system, and an inert infrastructure is now that Californians live in something akin to the Greek Dark Ages. They wander about looking at the ruins of prior civilizations and seem dumbstruck at the nature and purpose of decaying monuments in their midst. The problem is not just that the state does not wish to build a new dam, but it is questionable whether it can anymore, even if it wished.

Millions drive along the California aqueduct and have no idea who built it or why, only perhaps that it gives them life. Californians love their Sierra reservoirs but haven’t a clue how hard it once was to build them or why they were ever created in the first place, much less who planned and constructed them — and who is draining them.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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