Contemplating catastrophes is easier when the news is on wall to wall hurricane mode. Southern New England has been unusually dry this summer and different levels of drought responses have been all over the news as well. The tornado of 2010 and the October snowstorm of 2011 shook me out of any belief that my community was immune from disasters or the impacts thereof.
What I did gain was a knowledge that I lived in a place which was surprisingly resilient. Cities and towns outside Springfield and the city’s more suburban neighborhoods lost power, in some cases for weeks, while the lights on Maple Street never flickered. After the tornado a property neighboring my home acted as the base of operations for emergency services, fully operating and stocked shelters were opened within hours, and I didn’t need any of them because my home was only damaged cosmetically.
Fast forward to this summer. I read on local news outlets that Worcester, a very similar community to my own, was in dire straights due to this summer’s dry spell; water use restrictions, empty reservoirs, and expensive emergency purchases of water from the Quabbin. I was waiting to hear from Springfield’s Water and Sewer Commission of similar circumstances here; nothing materialized. I went to the commission’s website to see if there had at least been some low-key press releases about water levels at Cobble Mountain: nothing.
Thwarted in those attempts I decided to do some comparisons of the two municipalities’ water systems. I was shocked to see not just how much more Springfield has in reserve (over 3x Worcester’s whole system in just one reservoir), but also how multivalent the system was with multiple emergency sources and, quite literally, back up sources to back up sources, and with multiple power generators producing up to 33 megawatts of power as a by product of delivering high quality drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people. I also noticed that the system is divided into eastern and western spurs taking advantage primarily of precipitation falling in the Berkshire hills, but also of the Hoosac highlands. In this particular drought of 2016 the Berkshires have been much less effected but, if in future years that is reversed, the system has a mechanism to take advantage of that fact.
I’m irked by the double standard on social media where blizzards and the north are fair game for ridicule:
But Floridians, at least as aware of the consequences of proximity to the tropics as northerners are to the same regarding the frigid Arctic, would be deeply offended if we were to post equivalent memes of us wearing sweaters under fire-red maple trees sipping apple cider with the tag line “Meanwhile in Massachusetts” while a hurricane wreaked havoc on their state.
I tried hard to be skeptical of northerly resilience for a long time. I had a very pleasant email back and forth with Jim Kunstler, meaningful to me if totally forgettable to him, wherein I questioned the relative vulnerabilities created by prolonged cold versus prolonged heat. I would be open to correction, but I think heat is such a common residual output of so many processes, including just bunching people together, that mass extinction by extreme cold seems unlikely. I’ve been impressed by just how simple low grade heat can be extracted via passive solar and, as the coldest days here are often the sunniest, I would venture that cold may cause discomfort, but increasing heat will do much worse.
You may think I’m a paranoid apocalypticist. So do I. But I also can’t understand how so many people are oblivious to our circumstances at this moment. Leaving aside the last 30 years of fiscal and monetary shenanigans designed to sustain the unsustainable, it is inconceivable to me that the finite nature of our planet doesn’t give more people pause when it comes to the continuous extraction of greater and greater amounts of resources by billions of people decade after decade. Can so many of us continue to use so much fossil energy in so many trivial behaviors forever?
Yankee Candle is the number two tourist attraction in New England. It’s a long way from everywhere and it is an inane tribute to nostalgia and kitsch. Thousands and thousands of people drive hundreds of miles to visit it. Every. Day.
I beat myself up for driving to work and if I need to do an errand by automobile I do it on the way home from work 90% of the time.
I drive through some places and I can see that they are completely dysfunctional without an automobile. Even visiting neighbors is inconceivable (I keep using that word) without a car. It’s clear that the people inhabiting those places can’t conceive of a world where mechanized propulsion isn’t cheap, plentiful, and normative. I can’t conceive of it continuing much longer. Are we extracting gas and oil by means of fracking and horizontal drilling because the old, cheap way was boring? Is it that we drill from oil rigs floating miles above the ocean floor to pockets of petroleum still further down in order to save the cheaper more easily accessible stuff for our grandkids? Sure, we’re good like that.
I’m open to the idea that the reckoning will come after I’m gone, but the idea that there won’t be a reckoning? Inconceivable.