Regarding the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial of December 2 (“PG&E needs a rethink, not yet another rescue”), my feeling is that it is not just PG&E that needs the rethink but rather our whole system of providing basic infrastructure and utility services.
In the first place, we are often too quick to point fingers. After all, if no one is responsible, who are we to sue? Instead, it would be instructive to look inside and try to understand the role we all, each one of us, might have had in this or that catastrophe. With regard to the Camp Fire, for example, even if it ultimately turns out that it was indeed a PG&E power line that sparked the fire, we cannot say that PG&E caused or set the fire. That fire and others around the state were actually set by years of draught (to some degree exacerbated by human-caused climate change), the extension of housing and other urban development into sensitive areas, and exploitation of forest resources. All just waiting for someone (PG&E, an arsonist, a careless camper, a lightning flash) to come along with a spark.
We can no more say that PG&E caused the Camp fire or any other fire than we can say that the spark of Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 caused World War I.
Secondly, and more importantly, we urgently need to take a fresh look at all of our systems and practices to retrofit and re-engineer for both resilience and adaptiveness. As climate change and its consequent weather extremes and social and economic disruptions accelerate, how quickly and smoothly can our critical infrastructure (roads, bridges, power grid, water supply, communications services, etc.) as well as our social cohesion and economic activity recover from a disaster (earthquake included) and how quickly can they adapt to new and unexpected ecological, social, and economic realities?
As WaltKelly’s Pogo famously said for the first Earth Day in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” So, rather than establishing commissions to assign blame for this or that disaster, let’s realize that we have all had a hand in it and come together in community to find long-term solutions.