"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Henry D. Thoreau

 

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Thursday
Oct172019

Reflections on the Thanksgiving Storm

The weather events of the week prior to the Thanksgiving weekend were disruptive, although we were not all affected in the same way. Nevertheless we have all been reminded of how our lifestyle has made us dependent on systems that can fail. We have been reminded of our vulnerability. Several people have reflected on this storm and this vulnerability and we will be publishing these reflections in a series of columns. If you have an experience or reflection that you think is worth sharing, send it to eric@southeasttransition.com.

By Selena Randall

The Friday morning before Thanksgiving in the midst of the snowstorm that pummelled Manitoba, we had several power interruptions that set things bleeping (the stove clock, the printer), and then it was gone – the power! It was 4am. We got up straight away because we knew that our basement sump would be filling up due to high groundwater levels. We got up and dressed.

And so began four hours of hard work. The sump filled every 20 minutes. We bailed with a jug into pails, then carried the pails upstairs and emptied them into the bath. We repeated this every 10 minutes until the level was low enough to take a break, and then 20 minutes later we did it again. For the first 3 hours we worked by torchlight, my husband and I as a team, bailing more than 100 l. every hour into the town’s sewer system. Keeping our house dry was our number one priority. During the breaks we made hot drinks, and breakfast. 

We were lucky this time - we had power again within four hours, but as I sit writing this, I am thinking about people across Manitoba not likely to have power for days yet. We were lucky – our workplaces could cope without us for a day or even a few days, but some workplaces need staff 24/7 to maintain essential services for our communities.

Emergency planners tell us we should be prepared for 72 hours on our own. Were we prepared? We had torches, solar lamps, candles, camping stove, water and food, radio, cell phones with back up chargers. We had warm clothes. We had books and games to entertain us. While we had no water from our taps, we had plenty of water from our sump to keep the toilet flushed. Our car was filled with gas, so we could go elsewhere when the weather improved.

But how sustainable are we in adverse weather events? How long before we couldn't use our toilets because the sewer system was backed up - and then what? What if it had been -30 C? What if there had been a blizzard and we couldn't go anywhere? What if these adverse events become more common with climate change? Scientists warn us of that. Could we cope with adverse events more often? Could we have kept bailing our sump for 72 hours?

We can get a back up system for our sump pump, a deep cycle battery powered system or a gas powered generator. Whatever we choose will have taken resources to make, and will require an energy source to run (or to charge). We could install a woodstove, and bring in wood from local sources to keep warm without power.

We have designed our homes to be reliant on energy. We need power to keep them dry, to manage humidity and cool them, to stop our pipes from freezing, to run our furnaces, heat our water, bring water into our homes, manage our sewer systems. Take a look in your kitchen and think about all the items that require power. Then take a look at the rest of the house? All these things have become necessary to us, and become useless without power. 

Would you change anything to cope without power for a time in the future?



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