Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
This season’s final episode of Revolution, a new NBC dramatic series, was broadcast last week. With 7 to 10 million viewers, the network has ordered a second season. Here’s the premise:
We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren’t prepared. Fear and confusion led to panic. The lucky ones made it out of the cities. The government collapsed. Militias took over, controlling the food supply and stockpiling weapons. We still don’t know why the power went out. But we’re hopeful someone will come and light the way.
Last Thursday’s post included what then seemed a rather modest notion: “I perceive we need to assume power outages and discover how we can still water, feed, and otherwise serve those in need.” The onslaught of email I received seems to indicate the TV show’s premise may not be as implausible as I thought. For many the possibility of doing much of anything without electricity is nearly unimaginable.
Another set of emailers can imagine life without electricity, but found my effort misguided (even in the words of one, “enabling bad practice by the utilities.” ) These correspondents insisted that instead we must see to it that the electric utilities “just do their job.” This job evidently involves effectively, efficiently, and at no additional cost adapting to increasing demand, legacy infrastructure, more regulation, hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes, cyber-threats, and perhaps the greatest threat of all: property owners who love big trees. Not a job I want.
I know a resilient electrical grid is possible. It’s just that given choices we made more than a century ago, it seems unlikely anytime soon. Re-engineering for resilience will take time and lots of money. But I want to believe in the possibility of redemption. And fortunately, there are prophets to show us the way.
The prolifically prophetic J. Michael Barrett — usually more Isaiah than Jeremiah — has just completed an augury that might well have included, “Come now, let us reason together…” It is a scripture in four chapters, which began appearing on October 19 (see, I told you, prophetic) entitled: Ensuring the Resilience of the US Electrical Grid.
Chapter 1: Fixing it before it breaks
Chapter 3: Requirements for a more resilient system
Chapter 4: Key investments and next steps
In Barrett 4: 12 (or so) we read, “Embedding resilience within the electrical grid is about three main categories of investment: 1) managing and meeting overall demand to help avoid an adverse event; 2) expanding alternatives or substitute systems before and after an event; and 3) enabling rapid reconstitution if and when a disruption does occur. Fortunately, the implementation of each type of solution often carries over benefits across to one or both of the other categories, for the tools and the knowledge that can help avoid an event can also be useful in response and recovery efforts.”
For a prophet Mike Barrett’s language is remarkably calm and balanced (unlike this post). But between the lines a reader might discern the lemony shadow of “Rise up you who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent ones… for the palace will be forsaken, the populous city deserted…”
On what do you depend? If you persist in this dependence do not despise its nature, but honor it with study and work. Beware distraction. Do not be absent minded. That on which you depend requires mindful engagement. Absence — ab esse — is to step away from being, even outside being. Never a good choice.
Please visit an extraordinary collection of Sandy-related photographs by Christophe Jacrot: New York in Black. The example immediately above is too small. In full form the spirit of Edward Hopper is re-claimed. This is not just a city darkened, but a city more sharply seen.