There I was, lying in bed, the day after the blackout at what my blinking clock-radio said was 6:30 in the morning. I listened as the CBC told me what I could expect to find open that day, and pondered that this sort of thing wouldn’t have been a problem if we all lived simpler lives.
So you can imagine the feeling I got when I heard a moment later that Black Creek Pioneer Village was closed for the day. I mean, shit, if even a Pioneer Village can’t handle a little blackout these days, something must be terribly wrong.
And what’s up with this U of T generation system? Apparently we have a generator designed to supplement the entire university’s power at peak usage times. The only catch is that the grid has to be working to get this micro-power-plant up and running-which seems about as useful as a solar-powered flashlight. In any case, if even the country’s largest university isn’t really ready for a major power outage, so how prepared are the rest of us?
What would have happened if the power was out for a week instead of a day? How long can people survive with a limited supply of clean water, little access to food or emergency supplies, and no access to additional money to even purchase these supplies?
If the power went out permanently, most of us would probably die of starvation or television withdrawal inside of two weeks. And how long would it take before the survivors finally lost it and started behaving like rejects from a Mad Max movie?
The point is; we’ve engineered our whole culture to save us time, energy, and most of all thinking, so that we can busy ourselves with trying to be comfortable. But we’ve become overspecialized and complacent. Urban culture is hopelessly fragile.
Now, I’m not saying we should all toss our cell-phones into the street and move back to the forest and live like Grizzly Adams… oh wait, yes I am. Sure, maybe in the wilderness you have to watch out for bears and crap-but at least you’re not sitting in a traffic jam waiting to get to a job you hate, where you work your fingers to the bone, neglecting your family, so that you can comfortably retire in the Bahamas-only to fall short because of your mortgage and car payments and end up in an old-age home waiting to die of boredom and a colon infection.
Well, okay, maybe there’s a compromise. We could conserve more and invest in small-scale, diversified systems. Instead of huge cities, imagine living in small communities where people generate their own power using renewables like solar and wind. Smaller communities have a number of other advantages, such as stronger social ties, easy access to clean water and agriculture, and a heck of a lot less pollution, crime, and traffic. Small, automated industry would be flexible, relatively clean, and still able to produce most of the products we need-though obviously not on the massive scales of consumption that we’re used to.
Connected by the internet and reasonable public transportation, a network of small communities could be every bit as vibrant and sophisticated as any major city, but would remain adaptable and resilient. If we organized our political system to follow a decentralized model as well-putting the emphasis on the local rather than the national or provincial level-I think we’d find things a lot more responsive and democratic.
The internet works this way-it’s decentralized, so if any one of it’s systems fails, the rest of the structure can continue to function more or less normally. It works like a living system.
But it would only work if we were willing to live a bit more modestly and not consume or waste as much. We would also have pay attention to our actions, instead of relying on “the system” to make things work for us. It seems to me it’s either that, or the crap-shoot of waiting for some crucial system to fail catastrophically and bring down the whole house of cards.