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A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

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About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

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What did you learn last week?

Uploaded: Oct 13, 2019
I wanted to title this blog “Outage Outrage” (great title, right?), but at the end of the day, I’m really just wondering what everyone learned (or not) from the past week’s events, hence the more mundane title.

So -- what did you learn last week, from hearing about the power shutoffs, or anticipating one, or directly experiencing one? Did you make any decisions or take any actions for the future that you wouldn’t have otherwise? Do you understand something better now?

If you are wondering whether PG&E learned anything, look for their Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) report, which should appear in two weeks or so. They are required to publish one within ten business days of an event, and it may be interesting reading. For a recent example, take a look at the report PG&E filed for the late September shutoffs in the Sierra foothills and North Bay, which can be found here. Much of it reads like a giant weather report, but some of the interesting parts to me are:

- Damage (page 23). Before the utility can turn power back on, they examine all the power lines that were turned off to make sure they are safe to re-energize. When they do this, they document (and fix) any damage they see on the lines. You will find photos in this section.

- Complaints and Claims (page 48). You can review the complaints and claims that resulted from the outage. I can imagine there will be more than three complaints this time around...

- Lessons Learned (page 59). They document the lessons they learned from the process. It sounds like communication and re-energization speed have been areas of recent improvement. But I was also interested to read that they found inviting visitors to the decision-making meeting (on de-energizing) to be productive, and they plan to expand that.

I’d say that reading this report makes you realize that these shutoffs are a pretty significant undertaking.

FWIW, the other big investor-owned utilities in the state (Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric) are also doing these shutoffs and writing reports. Some of those can be found on the CPUC De-Energization page.

So what lessons did we residents learn? Here are a few things that I learned from the planned outage.

1. The area right around the Bay is less vulnerable to outages. I was pleasantly surprised that PG&E was able to isolate the area around the bay, including San Jose and San Francisco and many large businesses, from the outage. Not just in theory (the map they offered) but also in practice (they hadn’t done this before). Count that as a plus of living in a densely populated area.

2. The outrage was manifest. I was surprised by the degree of anger directed towards PG&E, particularly given we all have experienced the fires recently. I wonder how much of this stems from general distrust of PG&E vs a specific disagreement with the process.

3. There is no substitute for real-world practice. The IT department of a big tech company where I used to work would simulate major outages on a regular basis. Would services stay operational? Could employees maintain adequate levels of communication? Were there any cascading failures? And so forth. A silver lining of these PSPS outages is we all become less vulnerable to future outages, which may not always be planned. PG&E at least learned that its website needs to support higher loads...

4. Several local parks were closed. It surprised me that the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District closed several parks. Is that a new thing?

Anyway, I’m curious what, if anything, you took away from last week’s events. (And if you want to include the Home Electrification Expo as an event from last week, any thoughts on what you saw or heard there would be interesting!)

Current Climate Data (August/September 2019)

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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Posted by totally crooked corps, a resident of another community,
on Oct 14, 2019 at 9:03 am

I learned that continuing on our slide into third world style infrastructure really sucks.

It just so happens that PG&E is going to get the brunt of our anger at the whole mess.

While we stew in awful traffic, on inferior road systems, watching our world crumble around us... it's hard to choose from among a number of parties that have caused this mess.

We find a singular target when the power goes off and it's easy to heap all that anger from all the bad infrastructure into one place.


Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 14, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Great comment! Another title I thought of for this blog was "Outrage is all the rage". What you want is for people to understand the issues and then work together constructively to solve the problems. We are going to have lots of opportunity for that going forward, as the fast pace of climate change results in many things changing. Are we going to get mad at insurance companies for inadequately insuring against fire and flood? Are we going to get mad at builders for building in the wrong places? Are we going to get mad at animals for looking for food and shelter in the wrong places? Are we ... There is going to be no shortage of things to get mad at. I just don't see how that's going to scale in any kind of a productive fashion. And at what point do we turn the mirror on ourselves?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 14, 2019 at 12:25 pm

I did learn several things but since we didn't lose power I suppose I could have discovered a lot more things to learn but here's my thoughts.

Many people in Palo Alto don't understand the power grid. Many assumed that Palo Alto utilities generate power or similar and anything to do with PG&E won't affect us. It is interesting to know that some people were so blind to the fact that the Palo Alto power arrives in Palo Alto by PG&E powerlines.

It would have made sense to me for Foothills Park to be closed. Of course the Park is not a high user of electricity, but at times of high fire danger and when power is not on in the surrounding area, it would make sense that cutting down the number of vehicles climbing Page Mill Road just to go to Foothills Park makes little sense. If a fire had occurred all the extra people on the road exiting from the Park (if they heard about a fire) would have made little sense. Closing the Park I think would have been a sensible precaution.

The media went crazy about the outages. From having reporters all over the area interviewing people on their thoughts was stupid. It was hard to get information that was useful, speculation, opinion and watching traffic lights was not useful and the fact that there was other news to report in the region was almost ignored.

Schools being closed while parents still had to go to work was an issue. But what type of businesses were hit. Retail and restaurants were reported on, but there are myriad numbers of businesses that are dependent on power and people were not able to work. The cost of these outages on retail, restaurants, small businesses such as dry cleaners, hair salons, dentists, etc. must have been enormous. Even if such businesses that are in offices without windows don't need power to function, the fact that there is no lighting/heating/air-conditioning/etc. can make them inoperable. A gym could still function without power, but they would be dark, dismal and possibly very sweaty without the fans, the lights and the ability for a hot shower afterwards.

As for crime, has that been taken into account. Morgan Hill had a pedestrian curfew when their lights went out. What happens to security systems without power? The criminal element were able to hide in shadows, work around alarms, etc. and quite possibly knew that the police would be stretched during the outage.

As for traffic accidents. I heard of one police department saying that in a normal day they would be called out to about 5 traffic accidents, mainly fender bender types, but on the days without power these types of accidents were up in the 20s. If nothing else this makes the police more busy but also shows just how efficient traffic flow without traffic lights is much more difficult.

So what did I learn. Very little for me since my power did not go out. However, as the region as a whole, I hope that the costs and the lessons learned are well publicized.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 15, 2019 at 10:25 am

Is the glass half full or half empty? I was disappointed that PG&E was unable to isolate m ost of the flatlands of the eastside away from the hills. The outage zone on the east side of San Jose extended right to downtown.

I was also disappointed by the news coverage of the UC Berkeley research. Web Link . IF it is true that $500K+ was lost due to a power outage, THEN, somebody on the faculty/staff/facilities side really screwed up. You can't just turn up stuff like that an hope. Power does go down, and, people have to do risk assessments and calculations. It wasn't PG&E's fault that it wasn't done properly. I hate PG&E as much as the next person, but, blame them for things that were their fault, not everyone's bad planning.

Posted by Leaving Bay Area making more sense, a resident of another community,
on Oct 15, 2019 at 11:52 am

What did I learn? well I reflected on our recent visit to New Hampshire, they have highways with no potholes! (despite rough winters) even dirt roads in the country are smoother than El Camino Real in Mtn View, clean air, less traffic, affordable homes and it even rains once in a while, nice quality of life. There is more to life than perpetual good weather. Crumbling infrastructure, overpriced housing, gridlock and the risk of a devastating earthquake (long overdue) and wildfires are compelling reasons to leave.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 15, 2019 at 6:12 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Anon. Yeah, I wonder how PG&E decides which claims to reimburse. At what point is the customer negligent in not accounting for outages?

@Resident. Good points about theft, traffic accidents, etc. Is PG&E responsible for all that? Should they be? It seems a bit much, no? How should we pay for these consequences of our rapidly warming climate?

@Leaving. And take into account the warming temperatures here, especially in Southern California, and heading north looks even better.

One thing to keep in mind is that wildfires not only cause loss of life and tremendous loss of property, they also contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2018, they estimate that the wildfires wiped out all the emissions gains from the past few years. See how much the orange bars have dropped in this graph, compared with the size of the blue bar in 2018. (Chart is from the recent Next10 report indicating California’s progress towards its emissions goals is badly lagging.) Or just see that wildfire emissions were 11% of all our emissions in 2018. Yikes.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Oct 16, 2019 at 11:55 am

I read something in the past year that really surprised me; that the amount of CO2 released by forest fires is significantly exaggerated. A recent study showed that only 5% of the carbon that was biomass before a wildfire become carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - "as opposed to other estimates of 30% and public perceptions of 100%." Web Link This "good news" actually suggests that normal human activities contribute more to the CO2 increase in the atmosphere that we're seeing, since you can't attribute as much to naturally occurring fires.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 16, 2019 at 10:58 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Alan, thanks for the link. The Next10 report uses CARB wildfire emissions data, which you can find here. It is also pretty current. Maybe they are aware of that research? Either way, I would consider CARB to be the authoritative source for CA emissions. That doesn't mean they are right, but it hopefully means they will adjust as new research comes in. Interesting that the paper you cite estimates only 5% of biomass burns in the fires they looked at (a 2002 one in OR and a 2013 one in CA) -- that surprises me. It's great that people are looking closely at this metric.

Posted by Ajax Johnson, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 19, 2019 at 7:52 am

Sherry - your climate threads are shut down. Hope you can check this out prior to your next one. Nice look at the current landscape.


Web Link

"Once if you were a climate scientist the chief enemy was denial. Now, says Michael E. Mann, it's more likely to be “doomism": the idea that taking action to reduce the threat of runaway climate change is pointless because it's already too late.

Doomism, argues the internationally renowned climate scientist, is part of the latest frontier in the climate wars - a new tool being exploited by those resisting change in the way the world does business.

It sits alongside what he calls “soft denialism" (climate change is happening but it's OK, we can adapt) and “deflection" (sowing division by making it all about individual lifestyle choices). Such tactics, he says, are in some ways “even more pernicious" than the old arguments flatly rejecting human-induced climate change. [...]"

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 19, 2019 at 10:23 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Hi Ajax. Thanks for the comment, and the interesting link about attitudes that are impeding fast and urgent progress on climate. I agree that these are more dangerous than outright denial.

If you have a chance, can you clarify what you mean by "your climate threads are shut down"? I'm not sure what to look at. Thanks.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 19, 2019 at 10:51 am

Ajax-- excellent web link. Folks should take a look. Note this: "Mann, who will take up a visiting professorship at the University of New South Wales in 2020, insists the world doesn't need “a miracle" to avert the most devastating climate change scenarios. “We have the solution in our hands. We simply need to find the political will to provide the incentives necessary to transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.""

We see the "doomism" response in these blog/threads all the time. We -have- the technology in our hands, but, the response is that we can't be bothered to deploy it.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 19, 2019 at 9:46 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Sheri on Ajax Johnson's reporting of Prof. Michael E. Mann's comment

Accepting the cited article's characterization of Mann as an "internationally renowned climate scientist" (para 2 of Web Link is a good example of why it is difficult to take climate crisis advocates as being serious.

Mann, a professor at Penn State U, is famous for the IPCC "hockey stick" graph that has been challenged by many scientists as contrary to the publicly available data. Mann's graph effectively hides the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age and exaggerates the current warming. He sued a Canadian climate scientist (Tim Ball) who lightly mocked Mann for his claims. The Canadian court dismissed Mann's lawsuit when he refused the court's order to produce the alleged data behind his graph. The court awarded Ball full court costs, implying that the court found Mann's lawsuit utterly without merit.

As to Mann's claims (from the first two paragraphs of that news article):

1. "Doomism" ("the idea that taking action to reduce the threat of runaway climate change is pointless because it's already too late") - I haven't seen this being used by those skeptical of the "crisis". Strawman fallacy.
2. "Soft denialism" - This seems to be saying that after decades of flagrantly wrong predictions, skepticism of the current predictions is unwarranted. Also any belief in the ability to adapt - despite decades of various reductions in carbon footprints - is maliciously deceptive.
3. "lifestyle choices" - This seems hypocritical. Too many climate change advocates seek to arbitarily impose their lifestyle choices, politics ... on others. Or in the case of various leading advocates who show little or no concern about their own massive carbon footprints, they exclude themselves from what they deem necessary for others. This smacks of authoritarianism, verging on totalitarianism.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 20, 2019 at 7:19 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Doug, please remember to include references in your comments. I will include two for those who are interested. Here is one. Really nice. And here is another.

I am sorry to see that you construe climate science as "decades of flagrantly wrong predictions". We'll have to disagree on that. I do agree that doomists are not deniers. Not sure where you get the idea that Michael Mann makes that assertion, though.

It is absolutely true that some of the mechanisms being suggested to address climate change can smack of big government. For example, "fly less". I think it's why some people look for reasons to doubt climate change. Market-based approaches like taxes may be more palatable. We'll see.

In the meantime, I hope the climate skeptics will put their money where their mouth is and buy up the discounted coastal real estate. It would be a big help to those who are trying to move.

Posted by Ajax Johnson, a resident of Mountain View,
on Oct 20, 2019 at 8:06 am

"has been challenged by many scientists"

ie. "Some people say"

What a joke.

Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on Oct 20, 2019 at 3:19 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

RE: Sherry

> "please remember to include references in your comments..."

Apologies. When web search returns good quality results, I tend to skip citation to avoid being accused of cherry-picking citations and because the commenting software allows only a three links. Aside: I recommend DuckDuckGo to avoid situations where Google/YouTube reorders results to promote its politics.
Also, I regarded the primary point as being Mann's use of a lawsuit to suppress criticism of his purported science.
You can see the difference between Mann's and Ball's graphs in "Fatal Courtroom Act Ruins Michael 'hockey stick' Mann" (Web Link which was linked to in article of your second link (not repeated here - over the limit).

> "I am sorry to see that you construe climate science as "decades of flagrantly wrong predictions". "

The public face of "climate science" has been catastrophism: predictions would have had the Arctic already ice-free; coastal cities, Bangladesh, various Pacific island nations ... already inundated by sea-level rise, ... One cannot legitimately say that that is not representative of the scientists working in the field because not enough of them stand up to challenge catastrophism -- circumstance where the principle "Silence implies consent" applies.
Prof Mann used lawsuits against scientific criticism of his claims: Was there outrage among climate scientists? No, he continued to receive support and honors in the intervening 8-9 years.
In my parallel blog "Skeptical of the 'skeptics' but not the advocates?" (Web Link I deliberately opened with the example of Italian seismologists who were silent in the face of false reassurance from the government using their reputations. The result: 308 dead, 1500 injured. Scientists not held to account.

> "I do agree that doomists are not deniers. Not sure where you get the idea that Michael Mann makes that assertion, though."

The assertion that I quoted was from the opening paragraph of the news article (Web Link that the earlier commenter cited (and I re-cited) and is presented as a paraphrase of what Mann said.

> "It is absolutely true that some of the mechanisms being suggested to address climate change can smack of big government. ... I think it's why some people look for reasons to doubt climate change."

This represents only a fragment of the situation. My blog cited above gives a broader perspective (but not complete).

> "In the meantime, I hope the climate skeptics will put their money where their mouth is and buy up the discounted coastal real estate."

Coastal real estate in general is not discounted. And it has been pointed out that prominent climate crisis advocates are buying that real estate, such as the Obamas on Martha's Vineyard. The big issue on coastal real estate are attempts to limit re-building and building *more* in areas vulnerable to current weather.

Posted by Jimmy, a resident of The Crossings,
on Oct 20, 2019 at 6:01 pm

[Removing ad hominem]

Typical denier or "skeptic" tactics.

Doug - where's your list of hottest summers in recorded history?

Posted by Daisy's fallacy, a resident of another community,
on Oct 20, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Uh-oh. Anyone else notice the appeal to authority?

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 20, 2019 at 8:44 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Hey guys. There is a line between skepticism and arrogance that some of you seem unaware of. I strongly object to the devaluing of expertise that I see in some of these comments. I strongly object to the sloppy and misleading paraphrasing that I see here. I strongly object to attacks on scientists and to people who applaud them. And I strongly object to reliance on sources like Principia Scientific.

I am going to proactively delete any more comments along those lines.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 21, 2019 at 4:39 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

I am having to close down comments again. One reader wonders why I published those two links in my comment, given they are such poor quality. It was intentional, to show the types of sites that are attacking this scientist. It was a commentary, not an endorsement of those sites. I guess I should have spelled that out.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Oct 28, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

BTW, if you are interested in learning what PG&E learned, their report for this planned outage is now available here.

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