Finding (Who to Blame for) Nemo

Originally published on Stamford magazine’s website.

Global warming makes me feel overwhelmed. I’ve been writing about extreme weather and various trends surrounding it—from weather watching in the social media age and our need to feel in control to the global state of discussions about clean water—for so long, but now that I’m living it, I’m tired. I want someone to tell me what to do about it, and I want to find someone to blame for it.

As I write this, I’m 23 inches into Nemo and, amazingly, my power has remained on. I’m grateful to have heat and light and Wi-Fi, but still wary. Given my long, complicated, co-dependent relationship with CL&P, I’m just waiting for their next screw-up. In certain parts of Connecticut, I’m sure many of us can agree that we’re stuck in an unhappy marriage with the utility company, but it’s a marriage we have no chance of leaving (unless we’re going to go off the grid with solar power or spend a fortune on a personal generator and fuel).

We’re locked in this dance with a bad, inattentive, greedy spouse. No, more than that—many of us see Connecticut Light & Power as a flat-out villain. The company is the force that ensures our rates keep going up, that’s responsible when the power goes out, and is one of the entities we blame for global warming. (Never mind that none of this is entirely logical. Rates go up because the cost of the raw fuel CL&P uses to generate power goes up. And because, you know, the price of everything tends to go up—otherwise we’d have a stagnant economy or deflation, which no one wants.)

Then there’s Mother Nature, of course. She can be a brutal force, sending tree branches careering into electric lines.

As Hurricane Sandy was hitting Connecticut, I dialed 911 to report a small power-line-related fire on my property and reached an emergency operator in a neighboring town. I never thought to blame it on my cell phone provider (although cell phone providers also rank high on the list of companies we can perhaps all agree to hate) or even on the freakishly devastating storm that was Sandy. Nope, I was sure the power company had somehow worked its dark mojo on the airwaves.

But having just been through a particularly bad year in terms of keeping the lights on, I tend to blame CL&P for everything. Dislike of the local power company is as American as apple pie. We can’t escape it, so we gripe about it. Our complaints bind us together; after the weather (snooze), it’s one of the topics pretty much guaranteed to feed conversation without starting any arguments.

It’s also comforting to have a local scapegoat to blame for everything. We don’t like to think about where the energy actually comes from (dirty coal mining that strips mountains and destroys miners’ health? nuclear plants just waiting to become the next Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi?). Rather than those amorphous, sinister forces, we prefer to focus on a nearby bad guy, one whose greed is mixed with general ineptitude. As a result, utilities like CL&P end up being the victims (of our vitriol, at least) as well as the victimizers.

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