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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Electricity- Need or Want?

I was all revved up to write a post for this week's Needs vs Wants when my computer shut off. Everything simply stopped and there was an eerie silence in my home. We had a blackout, not because of a storm or anything of that sort, but simply because of overuse. At 86 degrees at the moment where I live, and hotter still in other places nearby, nearly everyone in the region is running their air conditioning at full blast (aside for people like myself who try to even minimize fan usage). This maxes out the capabilities of the power stations, causing a system overload which results in a region wide blackout because of electricity overuse.

Electricity. Want? Or need?

Electricity is one of those tricky subjects to tackle, because it is kind of in a limbo state, not really a need but not quite a want.



Bare facts- humanity has survived thousands of years without electricity and in large parts of the world today still manages fine without.
Because of that, it would be hard to quantify electricity as a need, simply because it is possible to survive electricity free. After all, I manage quite nicely without electricity for the most part, choosing many times to conserve and do things by hand, even when there is the option of an electrical appliance doing the work for me.

And yet, I remember the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 all too clearly.
The sense of adventure when it all started out, gathering candles in preparation for the dark night ahead. The excitement mixed with annoyance that frequently comes hand in hand with a blackout and a break in routine.
The shock when we discovered that not only was there no electricity in our neighborhood or city, but in huge portions of the Northeast and Midwest as well as parts of Canada!
The awe of how the world simply comes to a stop without electricity.

But most of all, I remember the fear when the water pressure in our sinks slowed down and then trickled to a stop. With no electricity, the electric water pumps ceased to work, and we potentially could have been stuck with absolutely no access to drinking water.

In the civilized world, we're ├╝ber reliant on electricity. Without electricity, we have no phones, no water, no medical care, and since our gas pumps are run on electricity as well and we generally rely on gasoline powered vehicles to bring us our food, with no electricity we could easily die of thirst and starvation.
Our dependence on electricity is dangerous.

People in many parts of the world survive without electricity because they haven't become reliant on it. They're more self sufficient and have societies in which they can access food and water without needing to depend on electricity for that. They have animals and bicycles to transport food to supplement what they grow or forage, and they live near wells and bodies of drinking water.

In the developed world, electricity is a need. But only because we've made it so. We've arranged our lives so that our very existence is dependent on electricity. This commodity that was previously a luxury and wholly unnecessary, by means of stupidity and lack of foresight, is now essential for our survival. This is a dangerous position to be in; our reliance on electricity makes us subject to the unreliable electric lines which are liable to come down in storms, shut down because of overload, or even potentially be attacked as an act of war.
Hospitals and other places have realized the danger of relying on the electric company and have wisely bought gasoline powered generators to be used as backup in times of need.

My dream is to one day live in a home that is completely off grid. With solar panels providing electricity on sunny days and wind turbines creating electricity on windy days, I'd still get the benefits that electricity gives us, but wouldn't be subject to blackouts.

In the time I've been writing this post, we've had a total of five blackouts. My life, oddly enough, has not been greatly affected even so. Yes, my computer shut off each time the electricity went, my portable phone turned off, and my refrigerator shut off, but aside for that... nothing. I had no lights on when the blackout started, vastly preferring to use sunlight to brighten my home. My laundry, recently having completed its cycle in my (electric) washing machine was going to be line dried anyhow, something that doesn't either require electricity.
My cooking doesn't either require electricity, as I can simply use my stove top or solar cook.
And of course, using no AC and no fans to cool down, my keeping cool was not affected in the slightest by the blackout. (This is how we managed to get our summer monthly electric bill to only 25 dollars!)

In fact, the only way I knew when the electricity went on or off was when I heard my next door neighbor's central air conditioning and TV turn on or off.

I think something definitely needs to be done to eliminate our dependence on electricity for every day living. Electricity certainly has its pluses (among them many life saving technologies), but we've done ourselves a disservice by transforming electricity from a want to a need.

How do you manage during blackouts? Do you really miss electricity?
Do you think our dependence on electricity is a good thing or a bad thing? Do you aspire to generate your own electricity with solar panels or wind turbines or know anyone who currently does?
And oh, do you think electricity is a need or a want?





1 comment:

  1. I agree, its technically not a "need", but since most of the developed world has set up their life to be reliant on it when its gone its panic stations. People could definitely benefit from considering other options to electricity, and what they can do should their be no power available.

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