If you have fond memories of uneventful (and short) power outages from your childhood that were opportunities to pretend you were camping, this may come as a surprise to you: power outages are now more frequent than they were in the past, the average length of a power outage is increasing, and some people are experience significantly worse outcomes when the power goes out.
As always, the nerds are here to keep us informed. “Spatiotemporal Distribution of Power Outages with Climate Events and Social Vulnerability in the USA” (by Vivian Do et al., in Nature Communications, Vol. 14, Article No. 2470; Published online April 29, 2023) is a mouthful, but it’s also a revelation. Scientific American’s article on the subject contains significantly less math, if that’s appealing.
The TL;DR version is that extreme enough weather (and/or poor enough electric grid infrastructure) compounds some communities’ baseline societal vulnerabilities by exposing them to more significant power outages than the average household. The disruption caused by a power outage lasting 8+ hours is usually manageable (though inconvenient) in a community with sufficient resources, but is a major cause for concern in a community without the resources and options that make wealthier areas more resilient.
These power outages compromise medical and mobility devices that rely on electricity, make indoor temperatures dangerous in houses with poor insulation, and derail less formal work arrangements, which means each power outage could have lasting effects on the community’s earnings. Basically, it’s a bad scene all around, and effective solutions to these complex social and environmental issues aren’t in the works, despite the fact that power outages will worsen as increasing temperatures make us rely more on electrical grids for cooling, and more intense storms cause greater damage to our infrastructure. Repairing and improving infrastructure would be a good start, but each community would likely need to fight for the funding to make that a reality.
What Can We Do About It?
Climate change is a driving force for most people entering the individual disaster preparedness arena, but it’s important to consider how our work to protect ourselves could be paired with our work to protect everyone. Whether we’re supporting policy that will accommodate climate refugees on a global scale or putting our energy into activism for our neighbors in more vulnerable communities, building resilience for those around us deserves attention as well.
If you’re not sure where to start, economic justice is always a great bet. Wealth often predicts survival. Find ways to help communities build resources. Support union organizers, fight for $15, shop at small businesses, and vote for representatives who legislate policies that will create or protect affordable housing. Don’t get overwhelmed; get activated. As we say with disaster preparedness, doing literally anything is better than doing nothing!