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Published on 11/20/2019 additional information available

Dispatches from burning California

# largest
#housing crisis
#fire risk

Hey !

  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so what’s on my mind right now is the state of my state. In case you haven’t heard, it’s on fire.


This has become a disturbingly routine occurrence, and it’s getting worse; some of the largest and deadliest wildfires in the state’s history have happened in the last few years. Climate change is contributing to the problem, as is a housing crisis that pushes people out farther from cities into rural areas where they can afford to buy a home — but face a severe fire risk.


 In a (disappointingly inadequate) effort to reduce the risk of fires, we’ve also had rolling blackouts; my power is on, but many of our neighbors weren’t so lucky.


To be honest, it’s pretty terrifying to walk through your city at night in the impressive dark and quiet brought on by the outages — especially when the air smells strongly of smoke, the streetlights are off, and all the businesses are closed. It feels as though some important things I took for granted aren’t true anymore.


 To cheer myself up, I looked at global statistics on electrification. Eighty-seven percent of the world’s population has access to electricity, up from 71 percent in 1990. That bump has been driven entirely by increases in developing countries. (Developed countries are reported as having 100 percent access to electricity.)


Ongoing temporary blackouts like the ones we’ve been experiencing in California are the norm in much of the world; almost everyone in Lagos, Nigeria, has electricity, but fewer than 20 percent have reliable electricity. For many industries to make a home in a region, electricity access has to be dependable, so improving reliability may do more for standards of living than expanding access. The World Bank is one of many groups working on this.


 Finally, some personal news: my family is expecting a baby any day now! (This will be my last newsletter before I go on leave for a few weeks.) We’ve checked that the local hospitals have their own power sources, bought extra air purifiers so we can keep the house smoke-free once we get the baby home, and figured out where we’ll take our newborn if we have to evacuate, so I guess we’re all set.


I have, of course, believed for a very long time that we need to step up and address climate change for our children’s sake, but I have to admit I’m feeling it particularly acutely right now.

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