Mazzuca: If the lights went out (column)
It’s hard to recall a Washington idea that has caused as much consternation as the Green New Deal, making it fair to ask: Is the “deal” justifiably bold or is it unnecessarily expansive vis-à-vis its lack of specificity. And while you think about the answer to that question, I thought it might be interesting to look at the topic of energy from a little different perspective; and what better way to do that than to imagine life without it?
Imagine it’s a sunny mid-winter morning; a powder day to boot, and the temperature outside is minus 5 degrees. It’s 6 a.m. and far too early to head to the slopes. Then without warning the electrical grid goes down. You wait for the power to come back but unbeknownst to you the outage is widespread encompassing several states and you have no idea when it will return.
By late afternoon your home thermostat reads 50 degrees and it continues to fall. To keep warm you and your family begin to alternate sitting in your car with the heater on for brief periods. While there you decide to charge your cell phone using the car’s power, but whom would you call? Remember, no electricity means there is no wi-fi, and the only thing on battery-operated radios is static. Meanwhile just to be safe, you wisely check your car’s fuel gauge.
And while you probably have food in the refrigerator there’s no way to cook it unless you have a charcoal grill — by the way, how many extra bags of charcoal briquettes do you have in your garage?
More ominously, without electricity water-pumping stations would eventually stop pumping as their emergency generators begin to run out of fuel. Suddenly the thought occurs to you that a majority of the population may soon be without fresh water. Meanwhile, if the situation persisted how long would it be before locals began breaking through the ice on Gore Creek in a desperate search for water? And would local hotels provide buckets for their guests so they could find water, too?
But even those who were able to find a water source independent of electrical power would soon have another concern: food. Just about everyone who lives in an urban area is completely dependent on markets and grocery stores for their food. Even those who live in rural locations are largely (if not completely) dependent on buying food from outside sources.
It would be cash-only at the local grocery stores, assuming the stores hadn’t already been looted. (For our purposes I’ll assume that would never happen here in Happy Valley.) But it does beg another question: How much hard cash do you have on hand? Consider, too, you wouldn’t be able to get your money from banks or teller machines because they wouldn’t be operating. And even if grocery stores remained open (highly doubtful) it wouldn’t be long before shelves were bare.
The aforementioned notwithstanding, it’s likely everyone would deal with the inconvenience for a few days since most everyone has a little food and bottled water at home. But without power there would soon be a run on stores; and prices, well who knows — and in a worse-case scenario the competition for food and water could turn very ugly. From transportation to refrigeration, to growing the food itself, our entire system of keeping the population fed is reliant on electricity.
It wouldn’t be long before the existing milieu was one of chaos because all forms of communication — cell phones, radio, television, Internet, etc. — would stop working. Even those with backup generators would run out of fuel sooner or later and it’s likely that society, as we know it would simply grind to a halt.
In addition to being without food, water, lights, computers and cell phones, what about medical care? How long could local hospitals continue to serve the community, and in what capacity?
Perhaps even more frightening, what would likely happen regarding the police and fire departments? Would they remain to protect us, or might these public servants stay home to protect their own families?
Now this is where it really gets creepy — without electricity our prisons and jails would no longer be able to keep thousands of violent criminals behind bars; and then what?
It kind of puts our reliance on electrical power into perspective doesn’t it?
Quote of the day: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” — Eleanor Roosevelt.