Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fright and the hope for community...

How fast the world we assume to be stable can change.  Oh, I'm fine as are all the people I love... but some days help wake me up a little faster than others.

Northern New Mexico, where I live, is in the middle of a natural gas crisis.  As I understand it, there were blackouts in Texas which decreased power to plants that pressurized the natural gas that much of NM uses.  Since there wasn't enough gas, to keep the pressure up in the metro areas of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, they shut the gas off to the small cities at the end of the line.  I live in one of those cities.

I was in a small northern New Mexico village working at the elementary school on Thursday afternoon when the power shut off with a thump.  It was a relief actually because suddenly the heaters were quiet... and I realized the whole building was quieter (partly because all the electric door holders let go and the classroom doors shut).  But when I went into classrooms, the people were calmer.  Kids were working on their assignments or working calmly with each other and it felt like everything had been taken down a notch... for a few hours.

Then news started filtering in about the natural gas emergency and panic started flying through the community.  The tribe had an emergency meeting, parents were coming in droves to pull their kids out of school... people were wondering what on earth they were going to do without electricity or gas when the temperature the night before was -25 and was currently barely above zero.  Many people live in trailers.  It was scary.  The line at the gas station (the only one in town) was 100 cars long--waiting for the power to come back so they could pump some gas and hopefully get to somewhere with heat.  The maintenance crews were turning off water to school housing to avoid busted pipes.  Then the power came back on.  And the heat came back on.  And that switch which had been turned to the "we're a community, we need to help each other out" flipped back to "business as usual".

At home in Velarde, the gas is still out.  The neighborhood is very quiet and I am guessing most people have gone to relatives houses in cities with gas... or are huddled in front of electric heaters (electricity use is up 60%), or if they're lucky they have a woodstove and a good supply of firewood. The gas won't be back until Monday or Tuesday or maybe even later.  The gas company has to go to every single house and turn the gas off, then come back and turn it on again a day or two later.

How fast could our grid be disrupted?  It takes one plant in Texas for communities in New Mexico to freeze to death in the coldest weather we've had in 50 years.  Our power grids are huge.  So are our food grids.

I am one of the lucky ones.  I live on a mesa just outside of town so I have propane.  My propane tank today is still 20% full and the company says they can come and bring me more this week.  I have asked my friends in Taos if they need a warm place to stay or a shower, but they have all fended for themselves quite nicely.  We are a resourceful people I suppose.  Maybe we should use this resourcefulness to figure out how to create better systems--local food systems and local power grids.

I just finished reading Eaarth by Bill McKibben and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  That might have been obvious from the slant of my thoughts above.  I recommend these books, in fact I think everyone should read them.  They are revolutionary and necessary.  If we don't listen to our planet and learn to live in community, we will not survive as a species.  It is already too late.  We have to create a different world.  Starting now.

1 comment:

  1. I know it's not the same, but we were having restrictions here in Texas also. Coldest temps in 15 years with rolling blackouts of electricity. Once that was settled, I heard about gas restrictions. I have electric heat, so those blackouts affected my heat AND my water. My biggest fear was freezing pipes, a huge disaster. I could use my woodburning stove for heat, but that wouldn't help my water situation or my pipes. During all of this, we were asked to conserve electricity, but Cowboy stadium, home of this year's Super Bowl, was immune. Its lights were brightly shining at 2 in the morning! I have no solution...
    Oh, we got some electricity from Mexico, but I read in the paper this morning that 25 animals in the zoo in Chihuahua froze to death because there was no electricity!


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