Saturday, July 26, 2014

Narrow Escape?

So, I've been reading with interest how 2 years ago the earth narrowly escaped a direct hit from a solar super storm.

Had the storm hit us, most likely it would have taken down power grids world-wide for months, if not years, and dealt a serious blow to this high-tech civilization of ours.


That's sort of a sobering thought, isn't it? I mean think about it, if power grids were to fail worldwide, civilization as we know it would pretty much grind to a halt. Pretty much EVERY aspect of modern life utilizes electricity in some form or another.

It's not just that we wouldn't have electricity in our homes to power things like computers, refrigerators, furnaces, air conditioners and the like, much of our infrastructure depends on electricity.

Most urban areas would not be able to supply water to residents, and who knows about natural gas. Gasoline pumps require electricity, let alone refining crude oil into gasoline. Most modern trains run in diesel, but the switches and systems that regulate the tracks are all electrically powered.

And if transformers world wide were to be blown, it wouldn't be a simple matter of replacing them. Let's face it, the plants that manufacture them require, you guessed it, electricity!

Then there's the damage to communication systems. Most likely all satellite based communications would come to a halt. And who knows what would happen with local telephone service. Back in the old days that stuff was all hard wired, but these days, I'm pretty sure that even when you're talking on a land line to your next door neighbor, the signal bounces to space and back at least once.

Even though the 2012 storm missed us, scientists say there's still a 12% chance that we could get hit by one over the next decade. Twelve percent?!? Seriously? For something that would be so utterly disruptive to life as we know it, those odds are actually a bit frightening.

Anyhow, it all got me to thinking about the idea of emergency preparedness.

I have very mixed feelings about this entire topic. As a person with a mild obsession with bad disaster movies, I've spent my share of time thinking through many of the horrible fates that could befall humanity.

And power outages are not uncommon here in the winter time, though usually they are localized events and within a few days or a week at most everything is back to normal.

But I'm trying to wrap my brain around the idea of the entire planet being pretty much without power for months on end. How could anybody really prepare for an event like that?

I mean... let's look at the bare necessities that we'd need to survive.

First of all there's water.

I don't know the details of Denver's water system, but I think we might be in a fairly lucky position where that one is concerned. Most of our reservoirs are at significantly higher altitude than the city so there's a good chance that our system could function on gravity. But that's just the delivery system... what about the water treatment plants?

Well assuming there was no municipal water supply, what would I do? I do keep about 5 gallons of water in jugs in the basement, but that wouldn't last long. They do make water filters for camping that remove most of the common pathogens. Perhaps it's worth investing in one of those?

Then there's heat.

My house has neither a fireplace nor a wood stove, and there's no way either my heat pump or furnace would work without electricity. I do have a gas powered hot water heater so if there was natural gas I could cobble together some sort of system to keep the house above freezing, but not much more than that.

Over the years I've had fantasies of building some solar window box heaters - they're basically boxes with a glass top that are painted black inside. Air is passed through the heated box and then returned to the home.

I kept the glass when I had my sliding glass door replaced, but building one would be a bit of a project... especially if one was to attempt it without the benefit of power tools! But I suppose that would be a possibility.

Then, of course, there's the biggie: food.

One has to imagine that without power for transportation and communications, food supplies at the grocery stores would dwindle quite rapidly. And forget anything that requires refrigeration. One could hope that people would quickly put local food distribution networks into place, but I'm not sure I'd hold my breath for that one. So what would a person do?

There's the garden, of course, but that only produces food in the summertime, and without irrigation, gardening in this climate would be iffy at best.

One can always stockpile canned and dry goods, but I've been down that road before, and it can easily lead to a lot of food waste if you're not really committed to the whole process.

And even if you can get food, how do you cook it? I do have a solar oven, but it only works, when it's, um... sunny outside!

I could go on and on about this topic, but when it comes right down to it, I'm just torn about what the best approach is on emergency preparedness in general. I mean, there's no way you could possibly be prepared for any and every contingency. But it does seem prudent to take at least a few steps to protect oneself in the event of the unthinkable.

At the moment I'm unsure. I did pick up a few extra cans of beans at the grocery store today, and I got motivated to freshen my stock of drinking water in the basement, but beyond that I'm just not sure. I don't think I'm ready to start buying doubloons in the backyard any time soon.

So tell me, what is your take on disaster preparedness? Are you in the "Que Sera Sera" camp, figuring that whatever will be will be? Do you have a year's worth of supplies stocked away in your basement? Are you somewhere in the middle? I'd love to hear what y'all think about this.