How Do We Fix It?


Our Electricity Grid is Surprisingly Fragile: Meredith Angwin

Ep. 374

Every day Americans take the reliable supply of electricity for granted. Except during severe storms, we rarely, if ever, think that the lights might not turn on in the morning.

But in some parts of the country, consumers face the threat of rolling blackouts, and sudden surges in the price of electricity. Nearly two years ago, nearly 300 people died when the Texas power grid partially failed during a winter cold snap. California came close to a grid collapse last summer. And New England might be in big trouble this coming winter. 

Energy analyst, author, and chemist, Meredith Angwin, is our guest in this episode of "How Do We Fix It?" Her latest book is “Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of our Electric Grid.” 


In recent years, our podcast co-host Jim Meigs has written extensively on energy, and says it's a bad idea to shut down nuclear power plants that supply large amounts of reliable energy and aren't dependent on the weather.  


But the threatened electricity grid crisis is not just about how we make power—it’s how we deliver power to users. For big chunks of the country that system has changed radically in recent decades. Reforms that were meant to make our energy system more competitive backfired. 

The fragile gird matters more than at any time in memory for three reasons: 

- The need to decarbonize energy production to limit the future impacts of climate change. 

- Modern technology requires a big increase in electricity output.

- The geopolitical clash over energy has grown more intense and violent since Putin's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

We also discuss why it's not enough to add more solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-electric power to the system. We need new and improved transmission lines to move all that power.

Recommendation: Richard is watching "Extraordinary Attorney Woo", a South Korean TV series about a brilliant rookie attorney who has autism spectrum disorder. 

More Episodes

Thursday, May 4, 2023

US-UK Relations. Fit for a King? Richard and Jim

Ep. 385
The Coronation of King Charles III promises to be very big on pomp and circumstance, but it may also play a leading role in healing divisions between post-Brexit Britain and the European Union. Leading EU officials will be in attendance at Westminster Abbey.This podcast shares a personal perspective on some of the momentous changes in the UK over recent years, and includes comparisons between the hot topics on both sides of The Atlantic. Our co-host Richard last lived in London in the 1970's and 80's. During late March and April he returned, spending a month there.Richard tells us that forty years ago London was "darker, smellier, poorer, louder and less orderly than the great city of today." He shares examples that illustrate this shift, as well as discussing the great impact of Brexit on the UK economy and politics. Jim and Richard examine the special relationship between the US and UK plus similarities and differences in debates over cancel culture, populism, immigration and abortion.The 2016 Brexit vote that led to the UK's withdrawal from the EU has not been the disaster that many had forecast. But the British economy is losing ground compared to other leading nations of Europe. Growth is flat and a small recession is forecast for later this year.  Compare this with Ireland— still inside the EU— where the economy has been growing at more than twice the European average. The Irish growth rate may be as high as 8% this year.Recommendations: Refreshed after his recent trip, Richard urges listeners, if possible, to head overseas for at least a week or two. Travel is not only a tonic for the soul, but also broadens our political and cultural perspectives. During his trip, Richard read two fine books about the world-class city: "London: A Short History", a short, fluid and lively account by E.N. Wilson, and the much longer "London: The Biography", by Peter Ackroyd. Both give the reader a rich sense of London's very long and layered story.Anti-recommendation: Jim urges listeners to be very skeptical about the accuracy of ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot. While researching an article for The Manhattan Institute recently, Jim came across potentially alarming examples of made-up quotes and magazine articles that were cited but never actually written. Jim discusses the crucial differences between search engines and new forms of AI. This article in The New York Times looks at how ChatGPT can fabricate information.
Thursday, April 20, 2023

What's The Future of Journalism? Nikki Usher

Ep. 384
The news media and journalists themselves are faced with a crisis of confidence and trust. The internet broke the old business model of locally-based newspaper reporting and replaced it with national opinion journalism written by and for well-educated metropolitan elites.  Our guest is Nikki Usher, Associate Professor at the University of San Diego, who studies journalism, politics, tech, and power. Nikki's recent book is "News For The Rich, White and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism".In our conversation we look at the loss of place in American journalism, the gap between "news haves and have-nots", and how technology can be used to challenge old journalistic models and lead to new ways of delivering news to audiences that have been poorly served in the past.For decades the polling firm Gallup has been asking Americans: "How much confidence and trust do you have in the news media?" In the 1970's more than two-thirds of the public said they had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence. Today, the proportion is down to one-third. Most Americans distrust what they read, see, or hear from news outlets. A minuscule 7% of Americans have "a great deal" of trust and confidence in the media.We ask how do we fix it? and how journalists can gain a better understanding of why so many readers, viewers, and listeners believe that they tell lies or simply don't care about the truth.In this episode, we hear about efforts by The Los Angeles Times and Philadelphia Inquirer to reassess their roles in the community. We also learn about growing non-profit regional news organizations such as The Voice of San Diego and the Connecticut Mirror. Jim and Richard also discuss the work of the online platform Substack. Recommendation: Richard enjoys listening to the podcast series, "Rumble Strip", produced and hosted by Erica Heilman. This extraordinary show was profiled in The New Yorker and won a 2021 Peabody Award for the episode, "Finn and The Bell".
Thursday, April 6, 2023

Let's Rebuild Local News: Anna Brugmann

Ep. 383
In much of the country local news has collapsed, threatening civic pride and a sense of community for countless towns and cities. This dramatic change has also deepened America's divides.As our guest, journalist and public policy researcher Anna Brugmann explains in this episode, "the internet disrupted the local journalism model". Newspaper advertising revenue fell 80% since 2000. Thousands of local and regional publications closed. Most surviving newsrooms faced drastic cutbacks. Coverage of all kinds of local events— from city hall, school board meetings and football games to local businesses and zoning decisions — disappeared.First, Craigslist displaced print-based classified ads. Then Google, Facebook and other online firms became the main source of consumer advertising. We discuss the impact on local journalism. In recent decades, the news we read and listen to has largely shifted from local reporting to often highly polarizing national opinion journalism.In the first of two episodes on the changing face of the news media, we look at the retreat of local journalism and discuss solutions. These include non-profit media and changes in for-profit business models. Today, many newspapers get more revenue from subscriptions and fundraising drives than from advertising. We ask: how sustainable are these initiatives?Anna Brugmann is policy director for the advocacy organization, Rebuild Local News. According to her group, since 2004, as the U.S. population has grown, the number of newsroom employees has dropped by 57%."By almost every metric by which you measure a healthy community and a healthy democracy, the trends are in the wrong direction when local news leaves," says Anna. "In the past twenty years more than two thousands newspapers have closed in The United States."Recommendation: Jim is listening to a lot of podcasts since he unplugged his TV and stopped watching broadcast and cable news. Among his current favorite podcasts is "The Reeducation With Eli Lake". The show "challenges the common narratives the mainstream media and others push".