Get Out the Saw, Pa

Contemplating A World Without Sparks

Our temperature has risen! In Saskatoon right now it’s 10 F or -12 C and the thermometer is supposed to climb all the way up to -1 C / 30 F. Balmy breezes, almost! Our cats are enjoying the great outdoors this morning.

Texas residents won’t be nodding at that. I’ve been reading about the dire weather conditions and suffering of the poor Southern folks and they do have my sympathy because I realize they aren’t at all prepared. With our well insulated houses, furnaces and insulated water lines buried deep, we’re prepared for extremes of -50 whereas -0 F is a disaster down there.

No power is a game changer anywhere, though. I appreciate what the folks in Texas are going through on that score. (Assuming you have a furnace) heating fans and water pumps need electricity. Baseboard heaters and stoves are useless. We lived in Quebec during “the ice storm of the century” and know what it’s like to have no power for days with the temp hovering at freezing point.

The only way to operate anything – like the pump that pumped water out of our basement – was with a gas generator. Farmers especially were bringing these in from the US as fast as they could find them. For our dairy farmer neighbours with their bulk milk cooling tanks, a generator’s a must. We did have a wood stove in the basement, thanks be, and waded through ankle-deep water to stoke it. Generally speaking, this is not where modern man wants to go.

A friend and I had a discussion one day; she asked, “What if our power supply was cut off permanently.” I said most of us would die. She said, “If we needed to, we’d just have to find other ways to survive.”

I said, “Ha! We can’t live without power for an extended time. In winter, how would you heat?” She thought we’d have to cut wood.

I asked her to imagine the seniors in her building, in all the apartments on all the floors, trying to burn wood. Someone might burn the place down! “And think the million people in your city all trying to find enough firewood and wood stoves. Or get water – or food? Or drive on completely blacked-out streets? What would happen to stores if the city was blacked out every night? All the factories shut down, people out of work? No, I’m afraid if power was permanently cut, most Canadians living in cities would soon perish.”

She was using the idealistic “We’d all go back to the land” mentality. Everyone would get a little chunk of land to live on (which would denude the countryside.) Big farmers would have to share their land. We’d all survive on raising our own veggies, hauling our water (from where?) and sawing our own firewood. Our lifestyle would keep us healthy. It worked once. Why not again?

Recently I read that President Biden is taking measures to wean the US off oil and gas; I tried to imagine how that will work in the long run. Kind of like Texas now, but nationally? Softie that I am, I hate the idea of wind power because those big turbine blades kill so many birds; perhaps that could be fixed somehow? Giant bird nets? But in Texas now we hear the turbines are all iced up. How would they manage at -30F like we get?

Solar panels may make enough electricity for a home, but for a city water and sewage system? For factories and hospitals? Time will tell, but I foresee The train they call the City of New Orleans coming to a grinding halt with its fifteen cars and twenty-five sacks of mail.

Without oil to run factories, I can picture a time when the US will go back to a farming economy, minus the big equipment. Maybe, like my friend suggested for us, each city family will be given a chunk of land and go with subsistence farming, but I fear those beautiful national forests will go for firewood.

I’d thought Canada could benefit: we could sell our oil to the US if they wouldn’t produce their own. But I see the new President has cancelled the Keystone Pipeline project, meant to carry Alberta oil to Louisiana. Eastern Canada would breathe easier if all those dreadful coal-burning factories in IL & OH were shut down, ending the acid rain now polluting Ontario & Quebec waters.

Oil is currently a necessity to our lifestyle, but bringing in oil from overseas runs the risk of more oil spills and pollution. Building hydro-electric dams costs the environment, too. Ontario found nuclear power an unreliable, expensive, waste-producing alternative. Every solution has side-effects that must be calculated. Or, as someone tersely put it, “The cause of problems is solutions.”

In reality we can’t just go back. Not unless you eliminate 70% of the population and their demands on fuel supply and the power grid. Transportation, international trade, heating, cooling, sewer & water, manufacture, agriculture, construction, health care and more: these depend on a steady stream of power/oil & gas.

Idealism is the luxury of folks who are financially secure or retired in their little estate with a nice nest egg. They can dither to their hearts’ content over solutions for environmental concerns. And we should certainly all do our part to stop consuming, wasting, and polluting. READ: Stop buying CHEAP JUNK. Be willing to pay more for things made in your own country, where pollution controls are in effect.

But the poor senior on pension, the welfare family, or the average Joe/Jill who lives in a big city and has to work for a living – especially in a factory – may have a whole different perspective on the importance of saving the environment. Running out of food before payday weighs more heavily on their minds than thoughts of the world running out of oil in the year 2525.

8 thoughts on “Get Out the Saw, Pa

    1. Thank you. Problems arise because we’re human. We predict based on current data and forgot to consider… I often recall with a chuckle a quip I read one time:
      “If there’d been a computer in the 1800s, it would have predicted that by 1950 there’s be such a pile-up of horse manure on the planet that humans wouldn’t survive.”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. wind power makes up about 15 to 20% of power here in Colorado. We have diversified our power sources and that works well. The reason they were not prepared was because a past governor and all since have denied the likelihood of a freeze in Texas even though one happened in 2004. Texas also made the huge mistake of privatizing all its power which meant they are not connected to other states and couldn’t do what other states can do which is buy or borrow or accept the gift of power from other states. A long-term power outage in San Diego was once solved by buying electricity from Arizona, so I know this can happen.

    This happened to them because of poor governance for decades.

    When I was a kid most of the farms in all my worlds used wind power to be sure their stock had water. Windmills drove the pumps that pulled water to the surface for their animals. Nowadays, a lot of farms have a small solar collector connected to the troughs. Also here, where it’s very cold in winter but the sun usually shines, most houses have used passive solar even in the simple use of south facing windows to contribute to the heat in the house. Texas has sun enough that people could be “solarizing” their own homes as a lot of people do here and in New Mexico.

    I agree with you that the “going back to the land” idea is absurd. It’s just sentimentality. Lots of people out here are trying to “live off grid” and all that means is they are living in tough sheds or RVs out in the middle of nowhere with their solar collector and outhouse. Some are succeeding but most are not. I think my mom and her sisters could have “gone back to the land” but no way could I.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have wind turbines here in SK, too. I haven’t asked them what they do in -30 C or whether they put on the brakes when the wind gusts hit 70 MPH, as they do in some storms. I asked Bob about windmills; he said yes, most farms had one but they never generated electricity, just ran pumps.

      Even farmers can’t go back to the land. Farms today are in a 21st century world. Electronic feeders, electronic alarms and monitors, barns of up to 5,00 birds in Canada, 10,000 in the US. If their fans go off for half a day they have dead birds all over. Ditto with hog producers.

      I read a lengthy article yesterday about why the major power failures in TX and the speaker mentioned the fact that TX, to make their power decisions independently of the federal govt, wasn’t connected to other grids. Now they suffer. He also said wrapping turbines and weather-proofing gas wells costs money. Implied question: are we willing to spend the bucks to have this done in case this situation should happen again?

      We humans with our limited foresight must learn our lessons the hard way. A short in the Ont electrical system is what led to the massive blackout along the eastern seaboard so long ago. So not being connected may save some woes but, as you say, no incoming assistance, either. (The East coast systems have been restructured so they can’t do the domino thing anymore.)

      “Back to the land” is a dream that assumes good health. The minute you need to see a doctor for some ill, or must make a phone call, you go someone on the grid. If people are used to medical care, they’re not willing to die of a treatable condition anymore. Or a severed toe from chopping wood. 😉

      I don’t oppose the idea of getting away from fossil fuels, but the change must be made in increments, giving people a chance to set up options and adjust, or there’ll be chaos, resentment and bickering. And no jobs, and starvation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The change to renewables is being made incrementally. It can’t be done any other way.

        Wind power often exceeds what can be used immediately and is stored in various kinds of batteries. I personally feel that diversifying energy sources is a good idea. Most power in Colorado is still generated from coal and natural gas, but here were there is a lot of solar potential, we use it. We have a huge solar farm and my own personal electricity is mostly derived from that solar farm. When it was offered by my electric company I took it. The offer came with a small financial incentive. Solar power is also stored in batteries. Our wind turbines are naturally winterized.

        I have a lot of sympathy for the people of Texas, still they chose their government and chose the decisions that were made about their power situation. It’s truly sad when people have to learn the hard way and so many die in the process.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Here in the UK gas heating is soon to be phased out in new-build houses, and wind turbines are sprouting up everywhere, on-shore and off. Also, the end is in sight for fuel-driven cars though it’s still a few years away. The Flintstones managed quite well in their day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right — we’ll have to take a lesson from them. Foot power for cars, etc. 🙂

      As for wind turbines, I can picture the UK covered from one end to the other with wind turbines to provide power for London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester… (And not a bird left in the land. 😦 )

      If we could get people on board and eliminate street lights in our cities, it would cut down a lot on power usage. Or at least shut off the neon signs — one little thing cities could do. Seems folks will have to make a lot of adaptations if there’s less — and much more expensive — power.

      Liked by 1 person

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