We are many: they are few

In the summer of 2001, we were still living in Caspar and I was using my typewriter more than the computer, thanks to the rolling blackouts.

My friends on the East Coast used to make fun of me for the rolling blackouts, teasing me and saying that California was now a third world country. I used to point out that in third world countries usually the whole nation would go dark, rather than one section–I’m sure I’m not the only resident of rural California who noticed that urban areas like San Francisco and Los Angeles almost never had their power cut off. There was a suspicious imbalance in the direction of less populated areas of California (which is strange, since we use far less energy than big cities do).

I didn’t really mind the blackouts, to be truthful. It was summer and I was at the river most of the time anyway. We stopped setting the clocks after awhile because it seemed pointless, but other than that the blackouts didn’t really affect us very much. We had a big old gas stove, and every night we would fry up some falafel and listen to NPR. It was fun times.

Even in 2001, I understood that the blackouts were caused by corporate irresponsibility. California had been in the grips of an energy crisis for quite some time, and I was suspicious when several major utilities successfully lobbied for deregulation. Whoever was managing our energy resources was doing so poorly, and I assumed it was because they were more interested in making money than serving the population. When the Enron scandal broke, California’s blackouts may have only been a part of it–but it was a part I instantly understood. Ah ha, I thought, so Enron is responsible. Later investigations made it clear that Enron officials didn’t care much for their California subscribers–they took plants offline, directly triggering the blackouts, with little care for the consequences. Tapes filed with the Federal Energy Commission reveal that higher ups seemed to think the thing was all a big joke. Not so funny for people dependent upon reliable electricity for their lives. The insider trading scandal wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as the fact that Enron deliberately managed resources in such a way as to cause blackouts.

I’ve only followed the tracks of the Enron scandal loosely, even though I realize it was the first of many revealing corporate corruption in the United States. Enron broke open the gate, as it were. I understood before Enron that most corporations are corrupt–I was surprised that everyone didn’t know that. But I was pleased to see the heads of Enron brought to justice, and I am even more pleased to learn today that Kenneth Lay has been found guilty on all counts (one of conspiracy, two of wire fraud, and three securities fraud). Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive, was found guilty on all counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, and false statements, as well as eight of ten counts of insider trading. A small start, but perhaps one with promise.

This trial, and the result, speak of two things to me: corporate corruption and the growing crisis over energy (some of which has been artificially created by corporations that stand to gain). But energy is an issue, and one that will only grow larger. We are too reliant upon non-renewable forms of energy and centralized providers of energy, and this may be our downfall. It’s time to explore alternate ways to power your home and car, to think about the rising costs of energy (and not just the immediate costs, but long term environmental ones as well), and ask yourself how you might better utilize and conserve energy resources. Overpopulation and overconsumption may be the direct causes of our extinction.

It’s also time for more transparency. Did you know that most oil companies keep their reserves deliberately low in order to drive fuel prices up? Did you know that many automotive companies hold the patents for alternatively fueled vehicles and the technology to power them, but refuse to produce these technologies because of their entanglements with big oil? As citizens, we need to be aware of what’s going on in the world around us. Don’t take the blanket statements of corporations at face value–challenge them, demand supporting information, and refuse to let them ride roughshod over us.