A Power Hungry People

by Azreel | August 15th, 2003

We are a power hungry people. In the top of the news today – the power outages in the north eastern US and Canada. Conspiracy theories have already begun to surface as the power is slowly restored and the magnitude of the damage to the international power grid is revealed.
Thoughts of terrorism and the Blaster internet worm were quickly discounted by US and Canadian governments. Canadian claims of a lightning strike or fire at the Niagra Mohawk power plant were also quickly denied by US officials. Canada remains staunch in it’s assertation that the cause of the problem lies in the US.
Wilder ideas of an Electromagnetic Pulse weapon, or some secret government operation of the “1943 Philadelphia Experiment” variety have been whispered here and there. Alien attacks, interstellar galactic dust storms, solar flares, and electrical space storms have also been blamed for the outage. No answers have yet been found. Speculation is running rampant, and one does have to wonder how the power to such a large area can suddenly be cut off.
Instances like this serve to show how dependent we have become on our own technological creations. Lack of energy has brought the majority of the north east to its knees. It has crippled the transportation system, stopped commerce and trading, and severely hampered communications. Without power, the pumps that supply water to our cities cannot run. Our ability to function on this earth without the aid of technology and electricity has dropped dramatically in the last century.

As few as 40 years ago, electricity lines were still being constructed for the first time to many rural areas that had never had electrical power. Only 125 years ago, the incandescent lamp was but a fickle, oft failing invention in the workshop of Thomas Edison. And it would take nearly 50 years from that discovery before most cities in the United States to recieve an electric power grid and electric lighting.
Around 600 B.C., the greeks discovered static electriciy, noting that amber could produce a spark when it was rubbed against some cloths. The babylonians are rumoured to have invented the first acid battery. But despite these innovations, up until the early 1900’s, electricity was the work of early alchemists and sorcerers, and later the result of puttering inventors. It had little or no effect on how most people lived. But beginning with Franklin, Edison, Faraday, and Westinghouse, electricity became something useful. Slowly but surely we began to rely on it for light, motion, and a multitude of other uses.
This could easily turn into a rant lambasting the evils of technology. Technology in and of itself is not evil, nor is it the cause of all of our problems. Just as it is also not the solution to all of our problems, as many would like to think. Regardless, our society seems to be inextricably married to our techonlogical innovations, and the energy and electricity it takes to power it all. We have lost our ability to function on this earth without our gadgets, our gizmos, and our blessed electricity. We trust our lives to these little electrons zipping around, powering our elevators, running our communications, controlling life support in hospitals, managing our monetary systems, and performing a multitude of other jobs we rarely think about.
Needless to say, our modern society would be far different from what we have today witout the usefulness of electricity. No longer do our children grow up learning how to work an oil lamp. No longer do we have water systems that can function without the help of massive electrical pumps. Our food production is crippled without electricity. The economy grinds to a halt in a matter of days. After a week without electricity, transportation is limited to human powered modes as all gasoline refining has stopped, and pumps to fill vehicles will not run without power.
To most people, such things sound apocalyptic, but only two generations ago it was a way of life. We have cut ourselves off from the earth and created an artifical way of sustaining ourselves, taking what we need and giving nothing back. Can further technological innovation bring us back into harmony with our planet? Or do we face more imminent breakdowns of this carefully stacked house of cards in our future?

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