Storms and “Super Storm”

We have power back.  And internet.  And cell service.  All of which took nearly a week down here at the end of the earth.  Though I am NOT complaining, as some friends still don’t have internet back.

Folks here are calling it a freak storm.  But I am having a hard time seeing it that way.  Over the last few years, we in the northeast have begun experiencing storms right around Halloween that are dangerous, disruptive, and costly.

In 2011, 3.2 million residences and businesses had power outages during the “Snowtober” storm.  Like this year’s storm, that one hit when trees still held their leaves–leading to not only outages, but massive tree damage.  And that weather wonder came on the heels of Hurricane Irene and a spate of tornadoes (yep, tornadoes) in Western Mass.

A year later, over a week-plus in late October 2012, Superstorm Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in US history–coming it at a whopping $65 Billion–hit the entire eastern seaboard, after causing devastation in the Caribbean.  Ten million power customers in the US had power interrupted.  Nearly two hundred people died due to weather-related events.

And a week before this Halloween (2014), a rainy northeaster hit New England, interrupting power to 44,000 households.  That, of course, was followed by the storm we just endured.

This surge of Halloween-time storm activity was worrying me this morning, which is why I began to write this post.  I am wondering what the conjunction of nor’easters coming earlier and hurricanes driving further north is likely to portend.  Now, though, I am past wondering and well into worrying, because I just got back from a reading by Kathryn Miles from her new book SUPER STORM.”  It’s about Sandy.  But really, it’s a look at all that went horribly wrong–not just the bad decisions that individuals made, but also the bad decisions that are due to systemic flaws and frailties.  Miles conveys in gripping detail what happened over nine days.  But as importantly, she makes clear the crippled technologies, the poor communication, the skewed perception of risk that all also contributed to the disastrous outcome.

During the Q&A, Miles emphasized that learning about how frail the weather infrastructure of the US is was one of the most disturbing parts of writing the book.  She wonders how we can make good decisions in the face of bad weather if we don’t have adequate data to predict just how bad it will be.

Great question.

Internettus-disruptus

We live on the grid, but in ways that emphasize self-sufficiency.  Or so I have fancied.  We grow a lot of food, have solar panels to supply most of our power needs, have a rain catchment system to gather water to for the gardens.  We can mend and fix and make from scratch.  And for a few years, I was an EMT, so I have at least a passing familiarity with what to do in a medical emergency.  All of which made me kind of cocky about my ability to live lightly, to take care of myself.

BUT BUT BUT I have come to doubt whether I really can do this.  Have, moreover, come to wonder how possible it is to be SELF-sufficient in contemporary culture.  For sure, you can live low and light, but I am not sure you can be of the culture–engaged in it broadly–and also be self-sufficient.  At least I can’t.

And rather than simply lapse into some kind of self-recrimination, this realization leads me to wonder about the notion of self-sufficiency now.  As I mentioned in a post a while back about Common Ground Fair, I don’t think of self-sufficiency as literally making homespun and such.  I think about it as having the skills to live well in the world.  And a surprising number of those skills now are about being digitally connected to others.

Here’s what I am stumbling toward.  We lost power for nearly a week after the snow storm on November 2nd.  And while it wasn’t great not to have it, the only thing we really emphatically, impatiently, frustratingly missed was the internet.  Candles and kerosene lamps gave us adequate, if not great, light.  The woodstove served us well.  We had plenty of food and a generator that ensured that we didn’t lose what was in the big freezer.  But without the internet, we couldn’t do our jobs.  And we missed having e-mail.  And the New York Times on-line.  And the ability to google;  it’s grown hard for me to write without being able to look up some little something for the next sentence.

And we are not even particularly connected.  Facebook-less, Twitter-novices, we don’t use the tools that most of our peers rely on.

Is self-sufficiency fundamentally different in its contours in a hyper-connected world?  Is it even possible?  And if it is, what does it look like now?