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Government Agency: If 9 Substations Are Destroyed, The Power Grid Could Be Down For 18 Months

Government Agency: If 9 Substations Are Destroyed, The Power Grid Could Be Down For 18 Months.

 By Michael Snyder, on March 18th, 2014

North American Power Grid

What would you do if the Internet or the power grid went down for over a year?  Our key infrastructure, including the Internet and the power grid, is far more vulnerable than most people would dare to imagine.  These days, most people simply take for granted that the lights will always be on and that the Internet will always function properly.  But what if all that changed someday in the blink of an eye?  According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, all it would take to plunge the entire nation into darkness for more than a year would be to knock out a transformer manufacturer and just 9 of our 55,000 electrical substations on a really hot summer day.  The reality of the matter is that our power grid is in desperate need of updating, and there is very little or no physical security at most of these substations.  If terrorists, or saboteurs, or special operations forces wanted to take down our power grid, it would not be very difficult.  And as you will read about later in this article, the Internet is extremely vulnerable as well.

When I read the following statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s latest report, I was absolutely floored…

“Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.”

Wow.

What would you do without power for 18 months?

FERC studied what it would take to collapse the entire electrical grid from coast to coast.  What they found was quite unsettling

In its modeling, FERC studied what would happen if various combinations of substations were crippled in the three electrical systems that serve the contiguous U.S. The agency concluded the systems could go darkif as few as nine locations were knocked out: four in the East, three in the West and two in Texas, people with knowledge of the analysis said.

The actual number of locations that would have to be knocked out to spawn a massive blackout would vary depending on available generation resources, energy demand, which is highest on hot days, and other factors, experts said. Because it is difficult to build new transmission routes, existing big substations are becoming more crucial to handling electricity.

So what would life look like without any power for a long period of time?  The following list comes from one of my previous articles

-There would be no heat for your home.

-Water would no longer be pumped into most homes.

-Your computer would not work.

-There would be no Internet.

-Your phones would not work.

-There would be no television.

-There would be no radio.

-ATM machines would be shut down.

-There would be no banking.

-Your debit cards and credit cards would not work.

-Without electricity, gas stations would not be functioning.

-Most people would be unable to do their jobs without electricity and employment would collapse.

-Commerce would be brought to a standstill.

-Hospitals would not be able to function.

-You would quickly start running out of medicine.

-All refrigeration would shut down and frozen foods in our homes and supermarkets would start to go bad.

If you want to get an idea of how quickly society would descend into chaos, just watch the documentary “American Blackout” some time.  It will chill you to your bones.

The truth is that we live in an unprecedented time.  We have become extremely dependent on technology, and that technology could be stripped away from us in an instant.

Right now, our power grid is exceedingly vulnerable, and all the experts know this, but very little is being done to actually protect it

“The power grid, built over many decades in a benign environment, now faces a range of threats it was never designed to survive,” said Paul Stockton, a former assistant secretary of defense and president of risk-assessment firm Cloud Peak Analytics. “That’s got to be the focus going forward.”

If a group of agents working for a foreign government or a terrorist organization wanted to bring us to our knees, they could do it.

In fact, there have actually been recent attacks on some of our power stations.  Here is just one example

The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith reports that a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman is acknowledging for the first time that a group of snipers shot up a Silicon Valley substation for 19 minutes last year, knocking out 17 transformers before slipping away into the night.

The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, told Smith.

Have you heard about that attack before now?

Most Americans have not.

But it should have been big news.

At the scene, authorities found “more than 100 fingerprint-free shell casings“, and little piles of rocks “that appeared to have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.”

So what happens someday when the bad guys decide to conduct a coordinated attack against our power grid with heavy weapons?

It could happen.

In addition, as I mentioned at the top of this article, the Internet is extremely vulnerable as well.

For example, did you know that authorities are so freaked out about the security of the Internet that they have given “the keys to the Internet” to a very small group of individuals that meet four times per year?

It’s true.  The following is from a recent story posted by the Guardian

The keyholders have been meeting four times a year, twice on the east coast of the US and twice here on the west, since 2010. Gaining access to their inner sanctum isn’t easy, but last month I was invited along to watch the ceremony and meet some of the keyholders – a select group of security experts from around the world. All have long backgrounds in internet security and work for various international institutions. They were chosen for their geographical spread as well as their experience – no one country is allowed to have too many keyholders. They travel to the ceremony at their own, or their employer’s, expense.

What these men and women control is the system at the heart of the web: the domain name system, or DNS. This is the internet’s version of a telephone directory – a series of registers linking web addresses to a series of numbers, called IP addresses. Without these addresses, you would need to know a long sequence of numbers for every site you wanted to visit. To get to the Guardian, for instance, you’d have to enter “77.91.251.10” instead of theguardian.com.

If the system that controls those IP addresses gets hijacked or damaged, we would definitely need someone to press the “reset button” on the Internet.

Sadly, the hackers always seem to be several steps ahead of the authorities.  In fact, according to one recent report, breaches of U.S. government computer networks go undetected 40 percent of the time

A new report by Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) detailswidespread cybersecurity breaches in the federal government, despite billions in spending to secure the nation’s most sensitive information.

The report, released on Tuesday, found thatapproximately 40 percent of breaches go undetected, and highlighted “serious vulnerabilities in the government’s efforts to protect its own civilian computers and networks.”

“In the past few years, we have seen significant breaches in cybersecurity which could affect critical U.S. infrastructure,” the report said. “Data on the nation’s weakest dams, including those which could kill Americans if they failed, were stolen by a malicious intruder. Nuclear plants’ confidential cybersecurity plans have been left unprotected. Blueprints for the technology undergirding the New York Stock Exchange were exposed to hackers.”

Yikes.

And things are not much better when it comes to cybersecurity in the private sector either.  According to Symantec, there was a 42 percentincrease in cyberattacks against businesses in the United States last year.  And according to a recent report in the Telegraph, our major banks are being hit with cyberattacks “every minute of every day”…

Every minute, of every hour, of every day, a major financial institution is under attack.

Threats range from teenagers in their bedrooms engaging in adolescent “hacktivism”, to sophisticated criminal gangs and state-sponsored terrorists attempting everything from extortion to industrial espionage. Though the details of these crimes remain scant, cyber security experts are clear that behind-the-scenes online attacks have already had far reaching consequences for banks and the financial markets.

For much more on all of this, please see my previous article entitled “Big Banks Are Being Hit With Cyberattacks ‘Every Minute Of Every Day’“.

Up until now, attacks on our infrastructure have not caused any significant interruptions in our lifestyles.

But at some point that will change.

Are you prepared for that to happen?

We live at a time when our world is becoming increasingly unstable.  In the years ahead it is quite likely that we will see massive economic problems, major natural disasters, serious terror attacks and war.  Any one of those could cause substantial disruptions in the way that we live.

At this point, even NASA is warning that “civilization could collapse”…

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

So let us hope for the best.

But let us also prepare for the worst.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog

New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates | DeSmogBlog.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40SHARON KELLY

Sharon Kelly's picture

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington PostBloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

The debate over the natural gas industry’s climate change effects has raged for several years, ever since researchers from Cornell University stunned policy-makers and environmentalists by warning that if enough methane seeps out between the gas well and the burner, relying on natural gas could be even more dangerous for the climate than burning coal.

Natural gas is mostly comprised of methane, an extraordinarily powerful greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than carbon dioxide during the two decades after it enters the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so even small leaks can have major climate impacts.

The team of researchers echoed many of the findings of the Cornell researchers and described how the federal government’s official estimate proved far too low.

“Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Adam Brandt, the lead author of the new report and an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “And that’s a moderate estimate.”

The new paper drew some praise from Dr. Robert Howarth, one of the Cornell scientists.

“This study is one of many that confirms that EPA has been underestimating the extent of methane leakage from the natural gas industry, and substantially so,” Dr. Howarth wrote, adding that the estimates for methane leaks in his 2011 paper and the new report are “in excellent agreement.”

In November, research led by Harvard University found that the leaks from the natural gas industry have been especially under-estimated. That study, published inthe Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and oil refineries in some regions are nearly five times higher than previous estimates, and was one of the 200 included in Thursday’s Science study.

EPA Estimes Far Off-Target

So how did the EPA miss the mark by such a high margin?

The EPA’s estimate depends in large part on calculations — take the amount of methane released by an average cow, and multiply it by the number of cattle nationwide. Make a similar guess for how much methane leaks from an average gas well. But this leaves out a broad variety of sources — leaking abandoned natural gas wells, broken valves and the like.

Their numbers never jibed with findings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy, which approached the problem by taking measurements of methane and other gas levels from research flights and the tops of telecommunications towers.

But while these types of measurements show how much methane is in the atmosphere, they don’t explain where that methane came from. So it was still difficult to figure out how much of that methane originated from the oil and gas industry.

At times, EPA researchers went to oil and gas drilling sites to take measurements. But they relied on driller’s voluntary participation. For instance, one EPA study requested cooperation from 30 gas companies so they could measure emissions, but only six companies allowed the EPA on site.

“It’s impossible to take direct measurements of emissions from sources without site access,” said Garvin Heath, a senior scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and a co-author of the new analysis in a press release. “Self-selection bias may be contributing to why inventories suggest emission levels that are systematically lower than what we sense in the atmosphere.” (DeSmog haspreviously reported on the problem of industry-selected well sites in similar research funded by the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Worse than Coal?

There was, however, one important point that the news coverage so far missed and that deserves attention — a crucial point that could undermine entirely the notion that natural gas can serve as a “bridge fuel” to help the nation transition away from other, dirtier fossil fuels.

In their press release, the team of researchers compared the climate effects of different fuels, like diesel and coal, against those of natural gas.

They found that powering trucks or busses with natural gas made things worse.

“Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective” explained the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, an assistant professor in the Department of Energy Resources at Stanford, calling into question a policy backed by President Obama in his recent State of the Union address.

The researchers also described the effects of switching from coal to natural gas for electricity — concluding that coal is worse for the climate in some cases. “Even though the gas system is almost certainly leakier than previously thought, generating electricity by burning gas rather than coal still reduces the total greenhouse effect over 100 years, the new analysis shows,” the team wrote in a press release.

But they failed to address the climate impacts of natural gas over a shorter period — the decades when the effects of methane are at their most potent.

“What is strange about this paper is how they interpret methane emissions:  they only look at electricity, and they only consider the global warming potential of methane at the 100-year time frame,” said Dr. Howarth. Howarth’s 2011 Cornell study reviewed all uses of gas, noting that electricity is only roughly 30% of use in the US, and describing both a 20- and a 100-year time frame.

The choice of time-frame is vital because methane does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, so impact shifts over time. “The new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report from last fall — their first update on the global situation since 2007 — clearly states that looking only at the 100 year time frame is arbitrary, and one should also consider shorter time frames, including a 10-year time frame,” Dr. Howarth pointed out.

Another paper, published in Science in 2012, explains why it’s so important to look at the shorter time frames.

Unless methane is controlled, the planet will warm by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 17 to 35 years, and that’s even if carbon dioxide emissions are controlled. That kind of a temperature rise could potentially shift the climate of our planet into runaway feedback of further global warming.

“[B]y only looking at the 100 year time frame and only looking at electricity production, this new paper is biasing the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions between natural gas and coal in favor of natural gas being low,” said Dr. Howarth, “and by a huge amount, three to four to perhaps five fold.”

Dr. Howarth’s colleague, Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, raised a similar complaint.

“Once again, there is a stubborn use of the 100-year impact of methane on global warming, a factor about 30 times that of CO2,” Dr. Ingraffea told Climate Central, adding that there is no scientific justification to use the 100-year time window.

“That is a policy decision, perhaps based on faulty understanding of the climate change situation in which we find ourselves, perhaps based on wishful thinking,” he said.

For its part, the oil and gas industry seems very aware of the policy implications of this major new research and is already pushing back against any increased oversight of its operations.

“Given that producers are voluntarily reducing methane emissions,” Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, told The New York Times in an interview about the new study, “additional regulations are not necessary.”
Photo Credit: “White Smoke from Coal-Fired Power Plant,” via Shutterstock.

Report: Power Plant Attack: “Most Significant Incident of Domestic Terrorism Involving the Grid That Has Ever Occurred”

Report: Power Plant Attack: “Most Significant Incident of Domestic Terrorism Involving the Grid That Has Ever Occurred”.

Mac Slavo
February 6th, 2014
SHTFplan.com

Comments (80)
Read by 6,007 people

Chances are you didn’t hear about it when it happened or the investigation that followed. Last April just outside of San Jose, California the grid system came under direct attack.

Investigators have yet to identify any suspects, but the attack seems to have been well planned. First, someone accessed an underground vault housing fiber optic telephone cables and cut off communications to a large PG&E Substation.

Then, for 19 minutes, someone opened fire from long-range.

The sniper apparently utilized 7.62x39mm rounds, such as those used in an AK-47, to target the oil-driven cooling systems for 17 large transformers. The shell casings found at the scene had been wiped clean of fingerprints. According to Newsmax none of the transformers exploded, but the damage was significant enough for PG&E to force their electricity feeds to reroute through another station in an effort to prevent a widespread blackout.

As of yet police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have no leads. The evidence suggests any number of scenarios with the highest likelihood being a coordinated attack involving a team. But because of its simplicity it’s possible that the attack could have been orchestrated by a lone individual.

Whatever the case, the event prompted the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Jon Wellinghoff to call it, “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The 64-year-old Nevadan, who was appointed to FERC in 2006 by President George W. Bush and stepped down in November, said he gaveclosed-door, high-level briefings to federal agencies, Congress and the White House last year. As months have passed without arrests, he said,he has grown increasingly concerned that an even larger attack could be in the works.

He said he was going public about the incident out of concern that national security is at risk and critical electric-grid sites aren’t adequately protected.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation doesn’t think a terrorist organization caused the Metcalf attack, said a spokesman for the FBI in San Francisco. Investigators are “continuing to sift through the evidence,” he said.

Some people in the utility industry share Mr. Wellinghoff’s concerns, including a former official at PG&E, Metcalf’s owner, who told an industry gathering in November he feared the incident could have been a dress rehearsal for a larger event.

This wasn’t an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in and shoot up a substation,” Mark Johnson, retired vice president of transmission for PG&E, told the utility security conference, according to a video of his presentation. “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components.”

cali-attack2(Via theWall Street Journal)

The most significant power grid attack in U.S. history failed to be reported in any detail by officials or the mainstream media, likely because they did not want to panic the populace.

Could this have been a test for a larger scale event? Certainly.

Since then, what steps have been taken to protect the grid from such attacks, or even other potential scenarios like electro-magnetic pulse devices or solar flares that could wipe out the national power grid within seconds? None.

A single individual could have carried out such an attack. Cut the phone lines. Take aim. Open fire. It’s simple, really.

Now consider the potential damage if a rogue terrorist group or state-sponsored initiative launched a coordinated attack across 50 to 100 critical nodes all over the United States. Such an attack could bring the country to a complete standstill, leavingeconomic destruction and large-scale destabilization in its wake. A couple of days are manageable, but if the right equipment were to be targeted then it’s possible that repairs would take up to 18 months because many transformer components are sourced from foreign nations and have long build times.

The telecommunications systems, power grid, water  utilities, transportation systems, oil refineries and other critical industries across America are, as reported by U.S. Cyber Command, completely exposed to attack. It could come in the form of a cyber vulnerability, as we saw in Illinois when a utility station’s water pump systems overheated due to a reported digital security breach or when our drone fleet was hacked in the middle east. Or, it could be a physical attack like the one in California, with future incidents potentially involving larger transformers and explosives instead of AK-47′s.

The possibilities exist. Our government knows this, as evidenced by the comments of outgoing DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano who recently said that a crippling attack against U.S. infrastructure elements is inevitable.

The fact is that our infrastructure is outdated and exposed. It will not be repaired any time soon because the costs run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Thus, the only real option for Americans is to expect that such an event is coming, and to prepare for it.

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who has retired and now lives well outside of populated areas, says people should get out of major cities and have a retreat to avoid the fall-out from a grid collapse. His fears are substantiated by a recent report that claims 9 out of 10 Americans would die within a year of the electricity going out.

But whether you head out to the boonies or stay local, even the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends having an emergency supply because, as they’ve admitted, any response in a catastrophic scenario will be slow to come. This means that having a preparedness plan complete with evacuation strategiesfood supplies,water and other considerations will be essential to survival.

The threat is real.

Powerdown: Let’s talk about it

Powerdown: Let’s talk about it.

We’re caught in the squeeze right now.

Climate change is advancing at an incredible speed. We know we should do something, but we lack the political will to do what it takes to hold it to 2°C. UN committees are now being counseled to prepare for 4°C of warming. To keep it survivable, there’s got to be a powerdown — starting today.

Meanwhile green-tech enthusiasts cheer the rapid rate at which certain countries are installing renewable energy infrastructure. But reports are now surfacing of shortages in the rare earth ingredients needed to make that renewable infrastructure. We don’t have enough rare earth materials to replace the whole fossil infrastructure and continue on our current level of consumption. No one dares speak the little secret: Even with renewables, there’s got be a powerdown.

Shale oil is environmental desecration. But people are willing to consider it because there is potentially vast amounts of money in it because the easier-to-get-to oil is running out. Along with stopping fracking, there’s going to be a powerdown. But no one is talking about that part.

We should “keep the coal in the ground” scientists are telling us, and activists have (rightfully) picked up the cry. But no one never mentions the other side of the Stop Coal equation: the powerdown. We have to start talking about what we are willing to give up.

Industry charges forward: expand-expand-expand the airports, the freeways, heedless of the need for powerdown. New extractive drugs, new processed foods, new fashions and ways to consume, more-more-more energy consumption. And consumers and the market applaud it all. They’re inventing new biotech, new robotics, new high tech — all inextricably dependent on energy. Powerdown is such a big secret, that it can’t even be a talking point; it draws a blank stare.

But powerdown has got to happen. And really, really soon.

Powerdown means shifting to tools, techniques, lifestyle habits which use LESS power. It means reducing our energy consumption overall. Across the board. In totality.

Powerdown doesn’t mean convincing ourselves we’re going to convert our entire fleet of fossil automobiles over to an all-electric fleet, because about half of the fossil energy and greenhouse gasses embodied in each vehicle is spent in manufacturing it. Rather, powerdown means shifting to bicycles and human-powered transportation and reorienting our lives and our cities to need LESS transportation.

Powerdown doesn’t mean “more efficient” aircraft. Powerdown means no-fly pledges and stay-cations and moving closer to family. It means foregoing taking the kids abroad; and when your friends mention they’re thinking of doing so, it means responding in a way that makes it clear that it’s socially UNcool.

Powerdown doesn’t mean higher tech, because that requires vast high-powered labs and vast globalized supply chains and more-more-more rare earth materials behind the scenes to manufacture all that stuff. Stuff which will so quickly be outmoded.

Powerdown means inventing tools that run on zero energy, tools made from repurposed materials that humans already have extracted, tools that are durable and repairable because this isn’t a short-term fix. Rather, humanity is in this powerdown game for the long haul.

On a more intangible level, powerdown brings with it inevitable shifts in our economy. We can no longer have economic structures be dependent on more-more-more volume and more-more-more profits. Powerdown means a re-evaluation of what is important: Sufficiency. Basic needs met. Peace and harmony. (The biggest challenge is that last one.)

Powerdown means shifts in other systems too. It means parents and school officials becoming far less enchanted with the glossy hollow call of more-more-more high tech, and much more realistic about teaching the skills of powerdown. Right now we call it “green” to teach tiny kids to plant seeds in recycled plastic bottles, lessons that are completely disconnected from the reality of ecosystems, because it’s so cute. That’s much easier than making part of the high school curriculum the deep skills necessary to pump organic yield, like soil building, crop rotation, intensive urban ag spacing, season stretching, and food preservation. But we’ve got to do it.

Powerdown means our schools Just Saying No to corporate “donations” which strong-arm administrators and parents, and influence students, to place false hopes in the Big Corporate Way. It means teaching Local Foods and Buy Local, not as a “pretty-and-greener it-would-be-nice” feature, but as the core reality of our children’s future. Powerdown means shifting direction today.

Powerdown means political officials finding the backbone to turn away from big corporate dollars, to turn instead toward serious preparation for the realities of our future. Rather than trying to help disadvantaged communities climb on board old-fashioned energy-intense ways, powerdown means publicly and openly declaring that was a false mirage. Powerdown means acknowledging the folly and backing away from the cliff. It means helping all citizens make a direct shift into a more appropriate future.

Powerdown means faith communities embracing their role of cultivating peace and healing the world. It means preaching that large SUVs and use-it-once consumerism and large families are unholy, socially unjust, and sacrilegious. Faith communities can help us acknowledge that the false mirage wasn’t satisfying; that pursuit of it has made us less than who we are meant to be. Powerdown means Practice — as a community — of the lifestyle habits which lead to a peaceful shift: reusable dishes, onsite composting, food not lawns, bike/walk to gatherings, local food potlucks, simple living, connection.

It’s much easier to talk about shiny new stuff like the latest electric car model, or whether bullet trains are a good idea. It’s much easier to chat up the fantasy of high-rise hydroponic food towers, oblivious to their energy demands. But powerdown is here. Powerdown is now. We need to use the term widely.

It’s time to have the tough conversations. Time to get the wider public familiar with the concept. The writing is on the wall: Powerdown is inevitable. If we want any hope of achieving it peacefully, we’ve got to start shifting — minds and physical infrastructure — today.  Powerdown: Say it. Begin it.

 

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