Contemplating the power outage

Recently we experienced a severe storm that left the area without power, phone & internet. The water supply for the house that we occupy comes from a tank that collects rain water, and is fed to the house via an electric pump. So when the power is out we also don’t have any tap water available, which, in turn, means there’s no automatic flushing for the toilet. The hot water system uses gas (solar assisted), but is an on-demand heating system that requires connection to the electricity supply to ignite the gas when the hot tap starts running. Also, the stove top is electric.

The picture I’m painting here is to show that when there is no mains power, practically all of our every day conveniences disappear.

We found that we could manage a day, maybe two, without power – especially if the outage was planned and we could prepare buckets of water in advance. However, last year, there was also a severe storm creating a power outage that lasted a few days and upon hearing the restoration prediction time-frame we decided to purchase a generator.

We were glad of that decision this year because the recent power outage left us without power for nearly a week. The generator enabled us to keep the water pump going, fridge and freezer running, the wood heater fan, some lighting, the internet modem, and outlets to keep various devices charged. Keeping the internet modem running became a bit moot when, a day after the power outage the phone line went down taking the internet connection (ADSL) with it.

For almost a week, the daily routine consisted of filling the generator with fuel and starting it first thing (we didn’t keep it running over night), lighting the fire, and a couple more times during the day topping up the fuel for the generator.

During this time I noticed an urge popping up on occasion for things to return to normal – i.e. the way things were. When I noticed this I was reminded of two things:

The first was the (serious) comic depicting the notion of energy slaves as envisioned by Buckminster Fuller. Explained here is the excessive energy use (mainly by developed/western societies) made possible by the discovery of energy dense oil and its derivatives, along with the folly of the rapid depletion of this finite resource.

The other was the story of the Easter Islanders causing their own extinction by cutting down the trees on their island. I later learned that the actual cause of the collapse of the Easter Island society is more complicated than that, but the lesson is still important.

It’s likely that this way of life that had become normal was, at least in part, a contributing factor in the warming of the planet that resulted in the more severe than usual weather events which, in turn, left us without mains power. Yet the yearning for this way of life to return is just like the Easter Islanders cutting down their last few trees and then going extinct. To make matters worse, the way of coping with the power outage by using a generator and feeding it fossil fuels is, in some way, a denial of the unsustainable nature of the excessive use of these fuels. The above mentioned comic, in it’s last few panels, makes this very clear.

It seems that our lifestyle energy source is just as addictive as the refined sugar bodily energy source, and ultimately just as undesirable as well.

So, after almost a week the power was restored, along with the phone & internet. Things went back to normal, and the news reported on the government’s continuing support for the oil & gas industry. I do hope the younger generations don’t have to experience what it’s like to go extinct. Perhaps if you, the reader, read and shared the energy slaves comic enough people will understand that it’s becoming increasingly pressing to utilise the remaining fossil fuel wisely so that the future generation’s normal is much more sustainable.

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