Cultivating Real Resilience

The latest “power outage” news to come across my desk is rolling power outages in northern California, expected to affect up to 2 million people. With extreme dry, gusty winds forecast, the blackouts are the utility company’s precaution against wildfires sparked by downed power lines.

For mainstream folks, power outages might “spark” trips to the store for bottled water, generators. For those of us into sustainable living, this news is yet another opportunity to consider how to boost our household resilience.

When the topic of boosting household resilience comes up, many people these days immediately think “off-grid solar panels.” That might be a good choice for some, but solar panels are still a significant expense, and even more so if you add in the batteries required for an off-grid system.

Note that in many places, it’s not legal to disconnect completely from the power company, so “off-grid” really means a battery backup system for when the grid goes down.

My thrifty, low-footprint (and, not incidentally, lazy and minimal-effort!) approach to boosting household resilience is 1) have a solar-capable charger that’ll charge my phone and laptop; and then 2) simply expand my ability to do without electricity with little or no hardship. Some tips for this no-cost (or even negative-cost!), low-footprint approach include:

– Train yourself and your family to do without a fridge for at least a few days or weeks at a time. (In my book and on this blog, I offer various tips on fridgeless living, including links to excellent articles by fellow green bloggers.)

– Ditto for air conditioning. Learn how to do without, so you won’t be one of the ones in a panic if/when the grid goes down. I’ve written and linked lots about this too.

– Simply refuse to own any essential device that doesn’t have manual backup. Your well pump if you have a well; garage-door opener, etc. — if you have electric-operated ones, and do not yet have manual backup for those, be sure and add it! Now!

– If you live in a community enclosed by electric/electronic gates, check with the management to be sure manual backup is installed. Otherwise your community could become a death trap, think about it! (Those high steel fences with the code-activated electronic gates always give me the willies; I wouldn’t feel protected at all, would rather take my chances being un-enclosed.)

– If your work depends on electricity (such as a homebased computer-graphic studio), research conservation tips and practice minimizing your electricity consumption while still getting your work done. There are many ways of working offline. If the grid goes down, and you have researched and practiced, you’ll be more likely able to continue your work.

– On the subject of work, it’s always a good idea to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket. If your entire livelihood, or most of it, is dependent on freely available electricity 24-7, cultivate a sideline microbusiness that is off-grid. Landscaping with hand-tools. Knife-sharpening. Bicycle repair. Herbal consultation. Plant nursery. Honey production … are just a few examples of non-grid-tied occupations that can earn you money (not to mention social capital!) while also making your whole community more resilient.

– Think really hard before buying gasoline-powered generators. Do you want to store containers of gasoline in your garage or shed? I don’t! (I realize that an automobile is a “container of gasoline” too, but it just seems a lot safer to me than a plastic gas can.) And neither do I exactly relish the idea of being surrounded by neighbors who keep containers of gasoline (some plugged by rags or duct-taped because the proper lid got lost) stored in their sheds and garages. I can’t control their behavior, but I can at least set a robust example of alternatives.

– If you don’t already have a hobby or other entertainment that isn’t dependent on electricity, start cultivating one now. Reading a book; knitting; playing cards or checkers; talking with the actual fellow humans in front of you; telling stories. I don’t want to see any Netflix withdrawal deaths if the grid goes down!

Anything else you would add to this list? May you never have to deal with extended power outages. But since they may be becoming a “new normal,” may you be prepared, right down to your core!