Ah, electricity! What would we do without you? Go outside? “That’s where snakes live, you idiot!,” exclaimed John Oliver on Sunday’s power grid-centric episode of Last Week Tonight. He’s got a point, especially since the increasing number of blackouts hitting the United States’ own power grid has doubled in the last five years or so, only some of which can be laid at the not-feet of animals like snakes. (Also birds, squirrels, and even slugs, to whom Oliver tipped his cap, because how, exactly?)
Still, it’s not all adorable/creepy wildlife at fault for the increasingly disruptive power outages that make modern human realize just how completely screwed we are without internet access and a working refrigerator. As Oliver put it, adding another Hollywood hunk to his list of Last Week Tonight go-to thirst traps, electricity is like Oscar Isaac, “in that, without his involvement, nothing in my house gets turned on.” (No word on how Adam Driver feels about being replaced, but all evidence suggests he’s fine with that.)
Nope, our aging and critter-beset power grid is failing at such an alarming rate because of good old human greed and shortsightedness, and show of hands who didn’t see that coming. Playing clips of lawmakers like Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) not letting a woman expert from the Department of Energy speak, and a rural Pennsylvania landowner sneering about new power lines only benefitting people who don’t live near (or probably look like) him, Oliver held up the representatively deserving for ridicule. Still, as the host put it, our problem is a lot bigger than hypocritically deficit-obsessed budget hawks and the occasional NIMBY farmer. So big, in fact, that we might need some help from the giant, energy-transmitting superhero that is... Colosso, The Giant Transmission Line Robot!
Well, okay, that’s just the cheeky name given to a decoratively designed transmission tower in Argentina, whose mission to increase the capacity of the local power grid comes complete with a built-in winking function. Colosso winks! It’s not creepy at all! (Other countries versions of Colosso include spindly giants reaching out to the sky in Iceland and latticework jesters in Hungary, but nobody beats Colosso.)
As Oliver puts it in his exposé on America’s laissez-faire attitude toward a grid already past its manufacturing replace-by date and intermittently showering drought-ravaged lands with random spark-storms, disasters like devastating California wildfires are not only inevitable, but actively allowed to happen. (Here’s to you, Pacific Gas & Electric, for knowing your rusting equipment was a literal time bomb and doing nothing about it.)
As Oliver explained in his traditional “we’re fucked if we don’t make some tough choices, so we’re fucked, basically” style, fixing America’s power grid will take a lot of money. And while the Democrat-passed infrastructure bill will provide some $65 billion for upgrades to our sagging and squirrel-ravaged grid is a good start, it’s just a drop in the sea of public works efforts necessary to contend with not just our existing power transmission issues, but with the increased need for electrical capacity projected as the U.S. (ever so slowly) seeks to become carbon-neutral. (All those electric cars need to plug in somewhere.)
As blackout-freezing Texans saw last winter (when Ted Cruz bravely decreased his family’s power consumption by fleeing to Cancún), the consequences of not ponying up and thinking of America’s failing grid (and, you know, the greater good) is literally life or death for a whole lot of people. Oh, as Oliver also pointed out, there are actually three U.S. power grids, the Eastern one, the Western one, and the Texas one. Putting up the logo of the cheat-happy Astros, Oliver noted that, like in MLB, there are two dominant elements, and then “assholes in Texas who’d rather make up their own rules.” (Also, as Oliver demonstrated with a frankly terrifying show-ending stunt, let’s take it easy with the mylar balloons near power lines, people.)