A Catastrophic Blackout is Coming - Here’s How We Can Stop It | Samuel Feinburg | TEDxBaylorSchool

Published 2020-04-10
This talk was given at TEDxBaylorSchool in September 2017.

We are terrible at listening to warnings about disaster.” In this powerful and prescient talk, Helena’s Sam Feinburg speaks to the threat of a catastrophic blackout, what each of us can do to protect our grid, and the quirk in the human mind that makes problems of this ilk - like pandemics or nuclear proliferation - so desperately hard to solve.

Sam is the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Helena, a problem-solving institution that addresses urgent societal issues through for-profit, non-profit, and legislative action.

Helena's first project, "Factory in the Sky,” supported the construction of the first commercial carbon capture factory by the Swiss company Climeworks, which is now operating in 15 countries globally. Its second project, "Shield", catalyzed state and federal action to help protect the North American electrical grid from threats due to solar storms and cyber-attack, including a 2019 Presidential Executive Order. Its third, 'America in One Room', organized one of the largest political experiments in U.S. history in an effort to improve the way citizens evaluate candidates for public office, featured on the front page of the New York Times, and was hailed by US President Barack Obama.

Helena operates its projects with a small group of leaders it calls "Helena Members". They include Nobel Laureates, Academy Award winners, former CIA Directors, Olympic athletes, NGO leaders, technology entrepreneurs, explorers and more.

Outside of Helena, Sam serves as Social Entrepreneur in Residence at The Boston Consulting Group. In 2014, Sam won the World Schools Debating Championships as a member of the England Debate Team.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at www.ted.com/tedx

All Comments (21)
  • Anthony Gibson
    I grew up in rural GA on a farm. Did not have electricity as a child. Grew most of our own food and raised animals. Had Kerosene lamps, an outhouse, and used wood for fire. It was a beautiful existence. I just did not know it at the time.
  • ZsOtherBrother
    The real solution to most of these problems is decentralization.
    Centralization is usually very efficient at doing or producing ONE thing, and very bad at doing everything else.
    Moving to a decentralized model of energy production, storage, and distribution will increase the robustness of the system many times over, for a (relatively) small decrease in efficiency.
  • Kelly KeBo
    The sad part is that now you will be called a conspiracy theorist if you think proactively with abstract thought.
  • Jason Fowler
    Interesting how he connected alien invasion, a plague/pandemic, AND electrical outages all in one.
  • Helen Bird
    Revisiting this essential TED talk and it's been almost a year since the February Texas grid failure. The event caused over 700 deaths and many many people were without water, heat and food for a week. BE PREPARED my fellow citizens.
  • Digital Brand
    The only thing we’ve learned from history is that we haven’t learned anything from history
  • Ana Manoel
    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”
    ― Albert Einstein
  • Jamie Smith
    Anyone else pay attention to how Biden said in the debate last night that we are about to have a "dark winter". Some may say that he did not mean this literally but trust these are the little things that are said that we ignore but he meant exactly what he said. Pay attention folks.
  • david lohan
    Ironically this is happening now. Notice how they tell us ahead of time
  • Saddam Sandler
    I grew up poor. It taught me so many valuable lessons. Throughout life I’ve been tempted with money, with possession, with advancements in technology. But a seed was planted. I already knew I could be happy and content with the nature around me that was entirely free. The same nature that they are currently pillaging for the ‘advancement’ of our world. We’ve seen the planet start to fight back for itself with natural disasters, it’s time to take a side. See ya in the trenches earthlings :)
  • E C
    Here we are now, 2022.. pandemics, threat of world war 3. Who's listening?! God bless us all...💙🙏
  • Mitch Gilbert
    It’s not because they’re afraid it will happen. It’s because they’re planning how to do it
  • peachion2
    I’m glad for everything I’ve learned from my Amish neighbors. I can feed myself and many of my neighbors from my barn long enough to bring a newly planted crop to harvest.
    And I have a great collection of mantle lamps, candle making supplies, and a well in the back yard if needed.
    Nothing beats knowing how to do things, real things. Without electricity. Helps to have a couple acres of trees. But in the end, knowledge is power as it always has been.
  • Jack Phillips never went to sleep that night, the night before the collision he stayed up all night trying to fix the Marconi device even though the rules said he should have waited until New York. Can you imagine what would have happened if it hadn't been working when the Titanic hit? The lifeboats would have been left adrift and only would have been found by the Oceanic 29 days later most likely with zero survivors. The Marconi operators took shifts so Phillips probably had a couple of hours of sleep that day. Now he had to take care of the hundreds of messages that had piled up over the last few hours from passengers who wanted to send messages to their loved ones. The other ship which intercepted him that this man was talking about started transmitting their message while Phillips was transmitting his message. Now you have to imagine that the place he was transmitting to was 600 miles away and the ship that was transmitting to him was less than 50 miles away (Some even say 5 miles but that is still an ongoing argument whether it was the mount temple or not) So now the Sleep deprived Phillips who was catching up on all the messages he hadn't sent during the 12 hours while the machine was broken had this other operator interrupting his transmission. Phillips replied with "Shut up old man! I am working Cape Race!" When the wireless operator on the Californian heard this, he shut down for the night.

    Another piece of false information is that Philips did not get one minute of sleep until he died that night, he was still transmitting messages when the ship hit the iceberg, when the captain came in and told him to send distress calls to nearby ships, he did. Then when the Captain came in and relieved him from his post, he still continued transmitting distress calls, he didn't even put his life vest on. The chief wireless operator, Harold Bride had to put it on for him, they stayed in the wireless room (which was at the top of the ship) until water was flooding it, roughly 3 minutes before the ship disappeared beneath the water surface. Harold Survived but Phillips died heroically, both of them saved each and every soul onboard. Harold later named one of his sons Jack in honor of him. Please do your research especially if you are presenting In front of an audience such as the one at TED x Talks.
  • sam1953
    C'est la vie. None of us gets to live forever.
    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Don't make things worse by worrying about all of the stuff we have no control over. Have a great day!
  • Hermittao
    Before I retired, I was in a position that let me know that what he said is the absolute truth. He didn't mention that many Powerhouses are remotely controlled, often by one person who is monitoring two or more facilities. Most Powerhouse transformer switchyards are vulnerable to attack by any number of means. To use his analogy, the iceberg isn't over the horizon, it's within the fog bank we're about to enter. We need to heed this warning before it is too late.
  • Brian Allison
    Factor this in as well. We have government officials whom, for the right price(or whatever their corporate master demands), will let it happen.
  • MrRRW555
    Don't count on any government. Live as independent and self sufficient as you can.
  • Wren Little
    Fascinating. I would share this but people would just stare at me with blank eyes. Thank You