Friday, February 13, 2015

Could I survive without power?

“During the four days of the storm, I became accustomed to the soft light of lamps and candles and grew to like it. When the power came on again, I discovered that I was actually disappointed. The electric lights seemed cold and impersonal; they revealed too much.” 
- Damon Knight, One Side Laughing: Stories Unlike Other Stories

Happy Friday the 13th everyone!  I hope today finds you in great health and spirit.

We have been blessed with the four day weekend here.  Today teachers have a P.A. day (professional activity day) and there is no school. We've all had a chance to sleep in.

On Monday, Ontario enjoys a Family Day and so just as the name suggests, we'll be spending it with family and not at school or work.  All in all, sleeping in for four days, what can be better than that?

Now on to the topic of today's post.

Yesterday when I was writing about our recent power outage, I realized the subject matter deserved a more thorough examination.  There was so much more I wanted to say about it and so many questions it posed. I've been thinking about it many times over the years but never really said anything out loud.

When the lights go out we rush to our cupboards, get the matches and light our candles.  We turn the the house inside out in search of that flashlight we're sure should be where we think we've put it. Then we sit and wait until the power comes back on and we are sure it will come back on.  It's only a matter of time.

What about if it doesn't?

Do we ever ask ourselves this very important question?  What would we do if the power didn't come back on?  Not in a day, not in two, maybe not even in a month.  What would we do then? How would we survive?

A lot of us don't think about that.  The electricity has always been flowing and we expect it to be there for us today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives.  Never before, has humanity been this dependent upon third party for survival.  We are wired, we are addicted and we are very, very dependent.   And it is scary.

Just short two hundred years ago, every family was well equipped with everything they needed to survive.  They grew their own food, raised their own livestock and heated their homes without outside help.  How much things have changed.  Most of us have lost the ability to take care of ourselves and what's even worse is that new generations are following in our footsteps.  We don't teach our kids any real life skills any more.

I will not go into details of what might actually happen in the event of long term power loss.  The empty store shelves, the famine, the human desperation and so on and so forth.  The internet is filled with worst case scenarios for anyone that has guts to inquire what if.  And for the sake of humanity, everyone should.

My quest is more psychological one.  I want to know how mentally prepared am I?  How do I feel when the power goes out and all my modern amenities stop working?

Every time the power goes out I see three groups of people.  The first group whines and complains and can't wait for the power to come back on.  They have to get back to whatever they were doing and there aren't many things outside technology that interest them.  If it's evening and dark, they'll just go to sleep in hope that when they wake up everything will be back to normal.  The second group of people adopt really fast and they even seem to (gasp) enjoy it.  The third group of people are peeved that the power is out but they'll make do if they have to.

I'm in that second camp.  Sure it's inconvenient when the lights go out and all my modern thrills go silent.  But when that happens, a whole new world wakes up, the world in which we have so much to learn and I am eager to learn.

Every power outage for me is an adventure and a test on preparedness.  Do I have the candles, the flashlights and batteries all ready?  Do I have everything needed to build a fire if needed?  Do I know how to build a fire in the middle of winter if the power goes out and I have no other means of cooking food?  Do we have some food stocked up just in case?  Do I know how to grow my own food?  Do I know how to occupy myself without technology?  Am I strong emotionally to deal with something like this or will I fall apart?

We had couple of major power outages in the past year and a half.  The first time it was a mini twister that went through our area in the middle of summer, ripping everything in its path and toppling some trees, including a tree in our backyard.  The whole neighbourhood lost the power for just over 24 hours.  We had a lot of fun cleaning up the debris and cooking by the fire.  At night when it was time to go in, we played board games by the candlelight and simply talked.  The question of meat in the freezer came up and we've figured we'll cook it if it defrosted.  When the power came back on it was a little disappointing. Everyone went back inside, the air conditioner was turned on and the magic was gone.

The second power outage was a bit more serious and it happened due to an ice storm in December 2013, three days before Christmas Eve.  The trees were breaking like twigs, we had an entire yard full of fallen timber and this time the neighbourhood lost the power for several days.  We were the lucky ones to get the power back after couple of days but some of our neighbours had dark Christmas.  This time people were a bit more upset.  Some downright terrified.  Few began questioning our current way of life.

There are several ways in which catastrophic power outage can happen.  Powerful ice storm, sabotage, war, EMP attack, asteroid or geomagnetic solar storm can all knock us out of our cushy existence for quite some time. In a case of a solar storm, many of us don't realize that the question of such event is not if but when.  Every 150-200 years, Earth is hit with a solar super storm capable of frying our transformers and plunging us into prolonged darkness.  The most powerful geomagnetic solar storm on record was the Carrington Event back in 1859 which did not cause much damage because all we had to worry at that time was a telegraph system. If such event happened today, it would be a whole different story. One does not need to be strong in math to see that we are due for another one.  As a matter of fact, something did happen in 2012 that not many people know about because it wasn't widely publicised.  In July 2012 a massive coronal ejection tore through the Earth's orbit, a geomagnetic storm just as strong as the Carrington event.  The only difference was that the Earth was not in its path.  We've missed it by one week.

I'm not saying any of this will happen but it might.  Instead of basking in a blissful ignorance, I like to step out of the box sometimes and ask some really tough questions.  Thinking that we can sustain this technological civilization forever without any interruptions is simply dreaming. Something is bound to happen sooner or later.

What do you think about it?  Have any such thoughts ever cross your mind?

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