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Post details: Fahrenheit 104

Fahrenheit 104

Someone famous once said that "home is where you can find a doorknob in the darkness". This past weekend I had an unexpected opportunity to test drive this piece of wisdom in real life conditions.

Washington area has been suffocating under a severe heat wave for quite a few weeks now. Some time in the middle of June, the Sun whipped out its best pom-poms and started flogging our little planet like there's no tomorrow. Day in and day out our skins were parboiled in an afternoon sauna. The heat was not only oppressive, but also persistent. Nay, habit forming. And as heat waves are wont, they generated a number of storms of matching ferocity. One of them rumbled into town on Friday and knocked down all that stood in its path. Primarily the power lines.

When I came home that night everything was cloaked in darkness. Even the traffic lights were ominously unblinking. So I inched my way upstairs and started fumbling for the door knob. Indeed, it was exactly where I left it in the morning. Moving blindly inside my apartment felt like an exercise in instrument flying. When I finally found the flashlight, I lit a few candles and calmly awaited the arrival of electric current. However, as the minutes dragged on and no available electrons came in sight I decided to call it a day and go to bed. Since my bedroom had turned into a kiln, sleeping in it was a straining and drawn out nightmare. I would compare it to swimming in a lukewarm vat filled with vegetable oil in which restless dreams float around like half baked fish hopelessly nibbling at the cool corral reef of imagination. No fun whatsoever.

The next morning it transpired that electrons were not expected to show up any time soon (the storm apparently decimated most of the DC area), so I hopped in the car and entered the rush hour like traffic heading for the hills.

This unenviable experience taught me two things though.

First. We worry about the wrong problems. We fret about the Greek and European debt. We are apprehensive about Syria and the deteriorating security situation in the Middle East. Yet we are oblivious of the fact that in the meantime our whole planet goes off its rocker. Arctic methane seeps away and the polar caps are becoming the World's least known vanishing act. I think we should get our priorities straight: just because something may go wrong over the course of the next decade rather than next Tuesday does not mean we should put it on the back burner and just let it fester. Yes, this may be a false alarm. But what have we got to lose? If all of this is just an innocent local instability, we will merely end up with a more sustainable way of life and cleaner air. We can rebuild the European banking system from the scratch if it collapses. Not so sure we can do the same with the climate.

Second - as I was stuck on my way to Frederick (obviously I was not the only one who figured out that skipping town was the correct solution) I pondered how fragile our civilization really was. How much we take certain things for granted. And how poorly we would deal with their loss. Some people slept in their cars that weekend. Some ate their emergency stash of dry or non perishable food. Some had to drive to far away restaurants. And this was just a little storm. What if we lost electricity for a month? How long would the facade of civility last? How little would it take to turn us from respectable citizens to prowling predators, hunting for food.

There is a Spanish proverb which says "Lo que separa la civilizacion de la anarquia son solo siete comidas" (Civilization and anarchy are only seven meals apart). Without electricity, it might be just five.


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