Saturday, February 5, 2011

New Mexico Natural Gas Failure -- Why Now?

On the coldest night in Taos this winter and for many winters (-20) the natural gas flow failed. There was something about a rolling electrical blackout in Texas effecting pipeline delivery, the rest was a chain reaction. They now tell us we may have gas by Monday, Feb. 7th. As usual this is bringing out the best and worst in people. Workers from all over New Mexico and Southern Colorado have been called in and many volunteers in the plumbing and heating business. And then there are some who are pretending to be technicians coming to people's homes to turn on the gas for a price. Of course they are scamers.

My partners house is heated by propane so we have been staying there, but this morning his electricity went down and he brought a space heater to my house which is dependent on the failed natural gas. Both houses are limping. The first thing that came to both of us was to find a way to install solar panels as soon as possible. He has a traditional adobe fireplace which is our ultimate backup if I happen to lose electricity also.

Most of us are dependent on huge network systems that are beyond our individual or even community control. Often we don't know the source of our necessary resources until something like this happens. I think of our ancestors who gathered their own wood, and had no electrical or gas systems. They had wood fires, gas lamps or candles and a well for water. There were no universal systems to cripple millions when they failed.

All of these wonderful systems that sustain us are a mixed blessing. I remember when my parents put an electric can opener in our mountain cabin. unfortunately they didn't keep the old fashioned hand operated can opener. When the electricity went down for a week we had to open cans with a knife, an even more primitive tool. I regarded it as a lesson in the necessity of keeping a backup. Here I am living in a town that was pretty independent a few years ago but is becoming less so all the time. The advantages of progress aren't always what they seem.

When I worked at the Tattered Cover bookstore I remember coming across a book on old tools. I was amazed at the ingenuity involved in some of them. They were amazing and required no electrical hookup or gas. Why did we discontinue them. Sure its cool to have electrical equipment but there are times when it doesn't work.

Manufacturers, developers, and suppliers of necessary resources probably wish us to be totally dependent on them for our lives but it doesn't seem like a good idea in the long run, or even those times when the drawback side to large exclusive systems reveals their weakness. Maybe we need a crisis in delivery once in awhile to show us the downside of too much dependence on big systems.

But then there is the human side to big system failures. People pretty much ignore each other as long as these big systems are functioning, but when they fail everyone has to step in and show their true colors. People help each other, communicate with their neighbors and accept the loss of a few days of routine along with a cut in income. And on the other side the bad eggs show their true nature as well. It seems like these system failures reveal a lot of hidden potential both good and bad. Once in awhile we need to see the other side of the picture painted on the wall.