How Will We Cope When Systems Begin to Fail?

First of all….let me say Wow! Thanks to everyone for the illuminating discussion on my previous post. I’m still digesting all of your comments and haven’t had the chance to add my two cents worth yet because today has been ‘one of those days!’ Prepare for me to vent.

On Friday my work computer came down with a symptom I like to call The Blue Screen of Death. It was taken away to whereabouts unknown and then returned to me today. I eagerly booted it up, keen to recover the ever so important essay I had been working on like a crazy woman for the last few weeks. It was at that point that I discovered that everything is gone….lost….deleted. I could have cried (in fact I might have a little). I’m ok (sort of) losing the everyday work stuff because I can ask people to resend me everything I lost. I am however, devastated to lose the essay I had put long days into researching. All that research is gone and I have to start again.

But that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about my reaction to losing EVERYTHING on my computer. After a couple of glasses of wine and a few hours of hindsight, I’m prepared to dissect it.

So….. I lost all the data on my computer. Nobody died. I didn’t lose a limb. A piece of technology failed me…..That is all. So why did I react like my world was coming to an end?

This got me to thinking.

How would we react if all the bank’s computers died? How would we get our money? How would we know how much money we had? Where does our ‘wealth’ go?

How would we react if we had rolling electricity blackouts in our district? How could we pump gas (petrol)? How would water get pumped to our house? How would our effluent get pumped away and treated? How would we cook our food?

How would we react if a foreign country denied us access to oil? How would we get food from the supermarket if the trucks don’t come? How do we get to work to earn our money if we can’t fill the tanks of our cars?

It got me to thinking….We are so reliant on ‘the system’. The system is so reliant on technology. Technology is so reliant on energy.

It got me to thinking….How will we (as a society) cope when systems begin to fail?

Photo by: StarrGazr

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5 comments

  1. Sorry to hear about the lost essay Mia. As you say, the work stuff can go hang, but the research and writing is pretty galling to lose 😦

    As to your main question: “How will we (as a society) cope when systems begin to fail?”

    The only answer can be: “badly”.

    This predicament (to use John Michael Greer’s definition) reminds me of rock climbing (which I used to do lots of). I hate heights, and always found “over hung” climbs a huge mental challenge due to the certainty of a short fall and a big swing (it’s making my hands sweat even now …).

    When I climbed over-hangs I would always be very conservative, always ensuring that I could “down climb” if I got stuck, to the last clip that my rope went through. This meant that I rarely fell, but it also meant that I didn’t often get to the top.

    Our society has (through it’s reliance – and insistence – on technology and high energy solutions to _everything_) climbed way, way beyond the “last clip”. The technology and energy holds us up, as if by magic. And that’s where we meet your question.

    As a whole our society cannot “down climb” to a more secure and “sustainable” lifestyle. It can only fall, because every single thing we rely on (as you listed: food, water, waste, transport, energy, shelter) is completely interlinked and inter-dependent. Take away a key item (like oil) and all of them fail and we will fall.

    It is truly frightening contemplating what will happen to the people who live in even modest sized cities if the oil stops flowing (or is even impeded significantly).

    My best estimates say that the planet can probably support about one, or two billion people without oil. So, when the oil can’t keep up with demand the results will likely be death on a scale that we can’t even conceive.

    It’s a grim picture, but we really have climbed too far beyond the “last clip” to expect an easy downscaling of our economy if things go wrong.

    I am hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

  2. Really what you are looking at is a little exercise in risk managment. I have a little bit of experience in this field as well as some knowledge of sustainable technolgoies etc. My two cents worth to start the ball rolling.

    How would we react if all the bank’s computers died?

    If we get to the point where all the banks computers died due to lack of repair or power then money will have lost much of its intrinsic bartering power. Money is only a symbol of value that we aportion it. Banks computer systems are connected to large UPS systems that can switch over to generators and and any large institiution will have multiple data centres, some potentially overseas as part of their disaster preparedness. Standard risk management for continuity of business plus all the data is backed up on tapes or storage area arrays on/ off site.

    How would we get our money? See above and Start loosing your dependence on money now – just read a bit of orlov:) Money and our obsession with its acquisition is one of the many downsides of modern civilisation.

    How would we know how much money we had? see above – money very rapidly looses its value during a collapse and the accompanying hyper inflation. Just ask the people in Zimbabwe.

    Where does our ‘wealth’ go? Your wealth should not be in your bank accountat the point of collapse.Translate it into easily tradeable goods as you start to see the system collapse. Good historical indications of things to stock up on are:
    Coffee- all the caffeine junkies will still need their fixes
    Soap and razor blades
    Cheeses and preserved dairy products
    Alcohol – when TSHTF many people would rather face the future in a alcohol induced haze rather than deal with it. Also just as in the good ol days it can be a good anaesthetic and wound cleanser.

    How would we react if we had rolling electricity blackouts in our district?
    Go to be early and get up early. Switch off your computer and your TV.
    Set up a root cellar in a cellar below your house or a convenient cooler part of your house. Start to learn to preserve meats and veggies with refrigeration.
    Alternatively set up some Photo Voltaic Panels on your roof and a wind turbine in a suitable location to give you a combined power source. Sun in the summer and wind in the winter – remember though it has to be set up so it can power your own bank of batteries. If the grid goes down and you have a system that is feeding into the grid you won’t have any access to the power from your panels or turbine due to the specific type of alternator.

    How could we pump gas (petrol)? Well in the old days they used to pump it by hand. Get yourself a few 44 gallon drums for backup and a handpump to go with them.

    How would water get pumped to our house?

    Have an elevated water tank set up to capture water from your roof. Set it up at least 2 metres off the groud to give you at least easy access to drinking water with a minor pressure. Alternatively this water could be pumped with a small dc pump powered by your battery bank or a separate PV panel during the day.

    How would our effluent get pumped away and treated? Not an issue for us since we have a septic and a recycling system. The water from the shower, bath and sink go to a tank that gravity feeds back to the toilet before flowing off to the septic tank which needs to be cleaned out about once every 10 years [lovely job]

    How would we cook our food? Depending where you are – solar oven, wood fire etc etc.

    How would we react if a foreign country denied us access to oil?
    We would all probably get really angry and go and complain to the UN who would do NOTHING.

    How would we get food from the supermarket if the trucks don’t come?
    Start growing your own and break your dependence on the supermarket. We always have a store of roughly 6 months of essentials in the house. Combined with what we grow we could have a plainer diet but certainly would not starve.

    How do we get to work to earn our money if we can’t fill the tanks of our cars? Money at this point becomes irrelevant – all these things are interrelated.Think hard tradeable commodities not money.

    It got me to thinking….We are so reliant on ‘the system’. The system is so reliant on technology. Technology is so reliant on energy.

    You are only reliant on the system if you choose to be part of it. If you choose to be more self reliant then you start to live outside the system and so the impact of the collapse will be lessened.

    It got me to thinking….How will we (as a society) cope when systems begin to fail?

    If it is slow enough people will adapt just like the frog slowly boiling to death in the pan of water. Slow incremently changes and reductions in living standards do not bring about violent uprisings if there are periods of relative stability inbetween the pain. Eventually, though hungry people will start to fight each other for whatever is left.

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