Could power black outs ever be helpful?

Tuesday, 6th October 2009 at 17:19 UTC 3 comments

I’ve seen more than one article or comment recently stating loudly and clearly that the problem isn’t solving Climate Change, its solving the power black outs that will become a reality if we continue to use electricity at our current rate. The mind set is one of utter presumption: I must be able to get electricity when I want it! But this cannot continue to be the mind set for much longer…

As anyone who has managed to visit that part of the world we once called “Third” will know, there are plenty of places where the power fails and everyone lives to tell the tale. The North East Blackout that took place in Toronto, New York, and pretty much everywhere else between, was certainly a challenging moment in American and Canadian history, even if it only affected a relatively small percentage of the residents of both countries (though it was so embarrassing, and so culturally challenging that many have utterly forgotten already).

The cries of warning that refuse to be silenced betray something of an unreasonable assumption that industry can continue producing, and we can continue consuming, regardless. To question how we will shrink the economy in order to ensure we live within our ecological means is completely beyond the minds of such people. It is also notable that few of the things such people say have any bearing on any other country in the world: the selfishness of the statement is really self-evident to anyone with the slightest Internationalist leanings – by which I don’t mean “any who likes seeing the Internationale on protest marches, I mean anyone who recognises the need to transcend the otherness of different states citizenry and treat them as we’d like to be treated ourselves.

But such people remain a part of society, and we have to find ways to engage them, for they are as much the reason the blackouts are threatening as they are furious that they threaten their Western way of life. I wonder how we’re meant to engage them, without simply backing authoritarian governmental action to ban over-consumption. Its a big question.

But ultimately, perhaps these black outs should be embraced as a way of learning how to live lives in a post-on-demand society. The real risk, therefore, is not the black outs themselves, but the likelihood certain very rich individuals will install uninterruptable power supply devices in order to avoid the peril we mere plebs will suffer. If we cannot switch off for ourselves, perhaps its less of a bad things if that switch off happens for us. After all, it is overuse that will cause the blackouts, and so we may simply be able to use social pressure to challenge those who’s over use causes them, much like the grumbling neighbours who’s voices one hears when Mr Jones may or may not have been out watering the garden off the hose pipe at 2am during the hosepipe ban.

As frightening as the thought might be, perhaps this is a challenge we must be prepared to take up as part of the restructuring of society away from consumption. I rather suspect the governments that lead up to this impending doom will try and do everything they can to avoid us finding out, less we realise what a liberating experience a power crises can be for people.

Of course, its all very well saying this, but I realise fully that the poorest and least able to cope in society will probably have a rather different experience; unable to work, to heat their homes, to cook food, many will suffer. The real test will be whether those who are not the poorest will help those that are. Again, I suspect some degree of humanity to about halfway up the middle classes, above which any sense of solidarity has a habit of disappearing, and the whole thing becomes just a mere annoyance to be worked around through batteries in the garage and grumbling at the government.

But its more than likely the most vulnerable will be cited, by the richest and the representatives, in one of those disingenuous moments that the right wing media love to create, despite how disgusting it all looks. “Old woman dies of hypothermia”, “Men depressed because they can’t feed the family”. These may be the true faces of the tragedy, but co-opted by the creators of the tragedy, those with the money to over-consume, who’s real concern isn’t a Granny on a council estate, but whether they will be able to watch their over-sized tellies and run the spa bath. It will fall to campaigners and ordinary citizens to challenge the wealthy over their creation of this problem, just as in so many other situations.


Entry filed under: Culture, Economics, Energy, Environment, Freedom, Poverty.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John  |  Wednesday, 7th October 2009 at 3:18 UTC

    Graham, I really appreciated all your environmental blogs in the past seeing them as small but relevant parts of changing the contemporary discourses held by the majority of people regarding our environmental impact. This latest blog has triggered a question.

    I am eager to change, on an individual level, my reliance on fossil fuel. There are obvious ways of doing this, for example, getting out of my car. However, I am not going to pretend that I am going to turn off my fridge/freezer, stop using my computer etc. My question to you is (largely as this blog has been a good platform for such issues); how does someone at an affordable level – that will last into the future – transform these activities – that will realistically continue in most people’s lives – into a less damaging process and a process which we earn rather than it being an ‘entitlement’. For example, how does one install a windmill in their house, how much is it compared to normal electricity production, how much bureaucracy must you go through etc… I do not wish to limit this question to installing wind power (I use this as an example).

    I often think blogs do the ideological well, but do the realistic badly. If we want to impact on consumption patterns and environmental issues these questions need addressing. The average layman can read a blog and feel somewhat unsure as to how they can act. Your blog provides incentive (and should carry on doing so as it is through a slow butr relentless process that cultural norms and ideas are changed), I would like to see it provide greater solution.

    I realise that this comment could be interpreted as me being lazy and asking you to do the research to a problem I have not yet built up the effort to research and solve. It should be interpreted like this, this is exactly what it is. But also a lot of people read your blog, so better you say it than me.

  • 2. tiggs  |  Wednesday, 7th October 2009 at 17:41 UTC

    We’ve played this game already; 50’s and 60’s prosperity, followed by 70’s and 80’s collapse (with blackouts and energy shortages), creates the boom years of the 90’s and 00’s. aAnd it looks like the 2010’s will be blackouts and shortages again.

    Depressingly, it doesn’t look like shortages make us better people.

    What goes around, comes around.


  • 3. Informed Reader  |  Tuesday, 13th October 2009 at 0:10 UTC

    I certainly hope we won’t be getting electricity power cuts or black-outs. I pay the full market price for electricity as a consumer. The utility companies have a reputation to uphold; it’s in their customers interests to provide energy 24/7. Not doing so could have a serious impact on their market capitalisation.


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