2013 dealt us some severe weather conditions locally and globally.  Here in the GTA we had massive flash flooding, an ice storm, and a condition that is the new catch-phrase, the “Polar Vortex”.  Globally, we have seen snow and cold conditions in Israel and Florida, drought and heat waves in Australia, and extreme climate in almost every pocket of the world.  While everyone sits around and debates whether or not it is man-made climate change, the fact is obvious that there is something changing whether we have directly caused it or not.

The ice storm and subsequent power outages in the GTA proved to show us how little prepared the average urban dweller is for being cut off from our current system.  People who have lived out in rural areas or come from countries without consistent power supplies are used to dealing with such issues.  But here, in our electrically driven society, there is much we take for granted.   The grim reality is that our power grid is very fragile because it is such a large scale distribution system.  Power outages will likely become more frequent as unchecked growth continues to strain our infrastructure and extreme weather events become more common.  Here are a few emergency supplies that everyone should have on hand.

  1. Candles, matches/lighter, flashlights and LED lanterns.  All relatively cheap  and compact sources of light.
  2. Battery powered radio, and fresh spare batteries.  Very useful to gather information in times of crisis.  Unfortunately during the ice storm, our radio reporting was very unhelpful due to the announcers telling everyone to go to websites or Twitter feeds for information.   Our modern lifestyle has made for some loss in common sense.
  3. Corded telephone.  Wireless handsets will not work in a power outage, and sometimes cell phone towers are affected as well.  Although it is worth noting that many folks had their regular phone lines come down in the ice storm as well.
  4. Food for 2 weeks. Canned or dried food is best, choose canned meats for protein and instant rices and crackers for easy carbohydrates, soups for quick meals.  Morale is often low in a long term power outage, situation so keep extra coffee, tea, sugar, and canned milk for hot beverages, and keep some chocolate and cookies around for a sugar boost.  It also doesn’t hurt to keep a few large bottles of water in a storage space somewhere, too.
  5. Camp stove and extra propane.  Having hot meals, especially during the cold months is crucial to keeping strong.  It is extremely important to note to NEVER use these stoves or a barbeque indoors under any circumstances.   There are fatalities in every power outage due to carbon monoxide poisoning from lighting a camp stove or barbeque indoors.
  6. Heat source.  The most difficult of any survival kit in a northern climate.  Generators are great, but expensive and need constant maintenance and proper storage even in down time to make sure that they will work at the critical moment.  Once again, never to be used indoors.  It is important to dress in layers keeping the head warm.  Candles in smaller rooms will hold heat somewhat.  Heater packs for hikers and outdoor use will keep you warm under your clothes.  If you have a working wood fireplace, make sure you have a good stock of wood on hand.  Firelogs will not give off much heat.  Gas fireplaces will work in a power outage and will keep one room warm if you can close it off.  Definitely, this is the most challenging part of a power outage in our region.

Seeing that we are so dependant on our current system and that it is so vulnerable to mass outages, what else can we do?  Well, large scale power generation causes many issues across the board.  It is severely damaging to the environment, be it air pollution from coal, destruction of entire ecosystems and displacing of Indigenous peoples from hydroelectricity, the expense and inefficiencies of natural gas, long term storage issues and extreme danger in case of accidents when it comes to Nuclear power, and a myriad of health issues for humans and wildlife from large wind turbines.  Large scale distribution is carried by high voltage lines that have been known to cause health issues as well, and are susceptible to falling down in storm conditions.

The solution is to decentralize our systems and have individual communities responsible for their own power generation.  Small scale solar collectors, turbines and geothermal energy sinks have not been shown to cause any health issues or large environment impacts when used responsibly.  Of course, one of the other major issues we will have to face is our consumption of energy overall.  We need to learn to live without so many gadgets and toys that do nothing other than distract us from life itself.  Our ancestors didn’t even have electricity, and yet they still managed to live long enough to give life to all of us!

The fact is that all of our systems, water, food, and energy are all based on an arm’s length mass production and distribution system that is not sustainable or wise.  If we ran out of gas tomorrow, how would we feed ourselves when so much of our food is imports?  And, why is Canada importing so much food when we have the capacity to produce everything we need right here?  Do we really need tropical fruits in our diet?  We are so disconnected from every source of food, water, light and heat that we need to exist that many of us have no idea where it even comes from, the effort it took to produce it and to get it to us, and who the people were that have made it all possible.

Now, imagine if you will, your future house.  A water collection tank on the roof with a UV sterilizing filter to use for your showers, toilets, washing machine, dishes and plants.  A geothermal sink in your backyard and a few solar panels on your roof.  A garden in your backyard with fruit trees, vegetables and maybe even a few chickens.  (yes, many other large urban cities are allowing chickens).   Power outage?  No problem!  You have heat and light in a non polluting system, and you have taken some of the strain off the infrastructure to provide your family with fresh, healthy food.   Connection to the source of the very things that keep us alive is the most important thing one can hold in their awareness.  Why would you care about a store bought carrot if you had no connection to it?  But, if you had grown it yourself, you would feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from watching a seed grow and germinate, that sense of reverence for life that only comes with a direct contact with it.

That, in a nutshell is the cause of all our current woes and self-made problems.  We need to know where our food is coming from.  We need to know where our water is coming from.  We need to know where our power is coming from.   If you could see how much work, energy and effort is put into providing these utilities and comforts for you, would you waste them or take them for granted?  Or would you cherish them and be grateful for all the privilege that you do have.


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