By Cam Mather
My wife is a saint. You’d have to be to put up with me. As the author of a book like “Thriving During Challenging Times” which is about peak oil and peak food and climate change and the financial crisis, I’m probably not always a little ray of sunshine to be around. The other day Michelle suggested that maybe we should stop thinking about “The Long Emergency” (as coined by author James Kunstler) and start being all shiny and happy. She argued that there have always been people who claimed that the world as we know it was coming to an end and yet it keeps chugging along. I believe I make a good case in the book for why things are going to change in the future but I don’t share Cormac McCarthy’s view of the future in his novel “The Road” as a sort of post-apocalyptic nightmare. I think what I’m suggesting is sort of a “long emergency lite”, in which we begin to have less of what we’ve come to take for granted as being necessities.
A good example of this is our cities’ infrastructures. We take it for granted that our city governments look after things to avoid problems. This isn’t always the case. Canada’s largest city of Toronto experiences 1,400 water main breaks a year. From our roads to our bridges to our water pipes and electricity transmission lines we have not been maintaining our infrastructure. We’ve been so hell bent on building new suburbs that we’ve forgotten that we need to maintain the pipes that are in the ground.
In North America we should be spending trillions of dollars maintaining our infrastructures, but instead we’re only spending millions and billions. And the last time I checked, governments, most of which are already in debt, don’t exactly have billions of dollars sitting around to properly address this. And the last time I checked taxpayers weren’t overjoyed at the thought of paying more in taxes. So our governments are all in hock and oh yes, the baby boomers are now starting to retire and they’re going to tax the healthcare system and will be demanding pensions and entitlement programs. And there just isn’t the base of well-paid young workers to provide the tax revenue to support all of this.
So water mains and power grids and other systems are going to start failing. If you depend on others to provide water and electricity to your home or apartment you are very vulnerable. Last winter an electricity substation caught fire and a large area of Toronto was without power. Luckily people quickly swung into action and offered help to those affected but if the outage had gone on for very long, that helping attitude might have worn thin.
I’m not envisioning a Mad Max type of future, but I am envisioning a future where you’re not going to be able to rely on centralized institutions to deliver those essential services as reliably as you’ve been used to. Having a “Plan B” to deal with these possibilities doesn’t make you a “doomer”, it makes you realistic. There is very little downside to these preparations and by taking action you can actually reduce your stress level. Having some savings for a rainy day does this, so does having a backup plan to heat your house when the electricity goes off and your furnace fan doesn’t work. Our grandparents didn’t rely on anyone else for their essentials and this wasn’t a bad thing.