Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Alphabet: My History: Blackout (B)

Today, all around the world people are honouring "Earth Hour".

I plan on turning my lights off for the hour between 8pm and 9pm and encourage everybody to do the same. Yes, it's largely symbolic, however I think that given the current state of our world, a symbolic, global gesture in support of taking care of the earth is just what we need.

Unfortunately for our planet (and possibly the human race - cause apparently people like this breed), there are some small-minded jerks who have taken the time to write rude and insulting comments about this global demonstration. The ones I've added were from the Facebook group, meaning these people had to first join the group, then write their comments:

Australia saved 10% of their power consumption for one hour... Whoopty-doo. I fail to see how this benefits anyone in any shape or form. All you're doing is saving a buck or two on your own bill from going to the electricity company. I like supporting my electrical company because I think they are doing a fine job... Toronto Hydro was named one of Canada's Top 100 Employers in 2007 and its HYDRO ELECTRICITY. How is that not environmentally friendly?? Go donate to charity or something. Boycotting Hydro-electricity to save the environment... suck my ass.

hey thought i should let you guys know, i've been changing my lightbulbs so when 8 rolls around every light in my whole house will be turned on.

The planet has been through much worst shit then us (humans) (magnetic reversal of the poles, continental drifts, hundres of thousdands of years of meteorite bombardment, solar flares.... and we think a couple plastic bags......... and aluminum cans are going to make a difference...

I know I shouldn't bother with this, but it really makes me angry that people went out of their way to write this stuff. Not only is it rude, but horrifyingly ignorant. Regardless of what the planet has gone through, or whether or not global warming is a result of human activity (read up on this and decide for yourself), people ARE having an impact on the planet. Look around at the cities with little or no trees, at our polluted Great Lakes system, the smog in the air that's so bad in the summer that some people can't go outside. Look at the companies who refuse to reduce poisonous gas emissions from their plants because they don't want to spend the money. Look at the people who drop their garbage in the streets because "somebody else will pick it up".

Recently I had an issue with one of the other tenants in our building. Her boyfriend had taken the garbage out about a month ago, sitting the bag on top of the can - and leaving it there on top, with no lid, and not bothering to try and push it down inside. Since London has a zillion little critters who like to eat garbage (raccoons, feral cats, and squirrels being the most common), the bag was torn to shreds overnight, and trash spread all over the yard. I spent the next three weeks asking her to clean this mess up.

Three weeks. During which the temperatures rose, the trash started rotting even more (smelled great for a couple of days) and the snow melted, revealing even more garbage underneath. It was pretty disgusting, and I was forced to clean up part of the mess when my parents came to visit for my birthday.

Finally, I gave up on her ever doing anything and called the landlord. Feeling like a kid tattling on another kid, I explained what was happening and apologized for bugging him with something so childish. My main points were that the mess was unsanitary, looked disgusting, and leaving it out there for so long made me wonder what would happen in the summer. Thankfully, my landlord agreed with me and called her to insist that the trash be cleaned up.

I'm still floored by the fact that such measures need to be taken to get a person to clean up their own garbage.

The same day I called the landlord, there was a knock on my door. Standing there was the tenant from downstairs. She was furious that I had called the landlord and proceeded to spout out all sorts of excuses for why it had taken a month for her to even start cleaning up her garbage. "I was sick, my boyfriend was going to do it" and my favourite: "I was waiting for the snow to melt".

That last one did it.

"So you're telling me that you are planning to wait until the snow is gone before you bother cleaning this up?! That could me another two or three weeks! So until then I get to deal with racoons on my deck and looking at your rotting trash every time I go outside? That's gross and totally unfair!"

(I should explain that the area where the garbage cans are located is out of her way, but right beside my deck. So she never had to look at the trash while I saw it every time I went outside)

Her response was a very grown-up, "FINE!" accompanied by a stomp out the door, and a chorus of slamming doors and shouts and curses from the downstairs apartment.

How sad that a fully grown person can't clean up after themselves. I hate confrontation and really didn't want to involve the landlord, but it was the only way to avoid putting on rubber gloves myself and cleaning up her garbage. (I won't lie here - I had visions of doing exactly that, then dumping it down the stairs so she could look at it whenever she went out of her house. But I just couldn't be that much of a jerk.)

It's even more sad that there are people like this all over the world - who make a mess and refuse to clean it up, or tell themselves they'll do it "later". Several houses in this neighbourhood have garbage strewn across their lawns because of more people who can't be bothered to clean it up. A "few plastic bags and aluminum cans" could be collected from this street alone and fill up at least 4 big trash cans. Half of the garbage I see people piling on the curb each week could also be recycled.

But it doesn't make a difference at all...

(image taken from here)

Anyway, on to the warm fuzzy part of the post:

August 14th, 2003
It was about a half hour before Jeremy had to go to work. He was sitting in front of his computer, and I was watching a rerun of Seinfeld when the power went out. Instead of the usual flicker of lights and quick restarting of our computers, nothing happened. The TV stayed dark, and his computer sat quietly in the corner. After muttering about the annoyance of the power going out without warning, we talked for awhile and then decided to start the drive to work a bit early.

As soon as we went outside, it was clear that the power outage affected a lot more than just our house. Cars were lined up the road, barely moving. We could see that the nearest intersection (one of the busiest in the city) had no power either, and the cars were doing the 4-way stop dance: one or two going through at a time, with every direction crawling forward car-length by car-length.

"Uh oh. This is going to take a lot more time than I thought", I said to Jeremy. "But hopefully the power will be on outside of this area so you can still make it to work on time."

The radio announcer interrupted the end of a song to inform us that the power was most certainly not on anywhere nearby. As he talked about the "massive outage that covered the eastern seaboard and was affecting millions of people", we looked at each other in amazement. Expecting to be told not to bother coming into work, Jeremy called his manager and was informed that yes, the power was in fact on in their building (they have a huge generator) and he should come into work. His manager wasn't even aware of what was happening outside. The biggest blackout we'd ever heard of and the poor jerks inside the cube farm that we called our office didn't even know about it! I still imagine what it must have looked like from the air - the entire city blackened, but the lights still burning at Stream International. (Gotta make sure you can answer those tech support calls! "Your computer isn't powering up sir? Do you live on the East Coast of the USA? Yes? Well that might be the problem then...")

The drive to work took almost an hour, as people from everywhere all tried to get home at the same time. There were no traffic lights, no police directing traffic (yet) and Jeremy finally decided to get out and walk when we were halfway there. He made it to work 25 minutes before I made it home. The drive from home to work usually took 10 minutes.

When I finally parked my car in the driveway, I realized I didn't want to go inside our apartment. Something epic was happening and I wanted to be a part of it...

Grabbing some money and my keys, I wandered out into the humid August afternoon, planning to find a place open where I could buy some ice. We'd just made a run to Costco earlier that week and had $100 worth of meat in the freezer, so ice was suddenly a necessity.

It was hard to believe, but there were even more vehicles stalled on the roads, waiting to get through intersection after intersection on their way home. As I wandered up the street, I could see people stranded in gas stations waiting for the power to return so they could get gas - most of them standing in groups talking and trying to make the best out of their situations. It turned out that even the little convenience stores couldn't sell you anything unless you had exact change because the cash registers were linked to computers and wouldn't work. I was lucky enough to find a sympathetic cashier who (after chatting for awhile) agreed to sell me 4 bags of ice for $10. On the way home, I passed 8 people - all of whom offered to help me carry the heavy bags home.

Packing the contents of our freezer into the cooler we kept for camping trips didn't take long, so I grabbed a still-cold beer and a book and went outside. The air was humid, but a slight breeze kept things pleasant enough to enjoy being outdoors.

As the sun went down and the traffic slowly dwindled, the people came out. Grills were lit, warm beers passed around, car radios turned up, and a sense of solidarity grew between total strangers. The stars were out earlier than you would ever see them on a normal day, and without the orange tint to the sky, people saw constellations that ordinarily would never be visible from inside a city. The sky reminded me of sitting on the dock at the lake, where there are no lights nearby to block out all of those stars. I sat outside, wishing Jeremy had lied and said he couldn't make it to work, listening to people laugh and talk, and just enjoying the summer night.

Thinking back to that day, I can remember being amazed by three things: 1. The way the stars looked from our front yard, 2. How dependent we all are on electricity as a society, and 3. How kind people were to total strangers.

The same cashier who allowed me to buy ice (even when she was told not to sell anything) gave free chocolate bars, chips, and pop to the people stranded at her gas station. One man was from Stratford (about a 45 minute drive from London) and had been heading home after a long day on the road without stopping. He gulped down his Sprite like someone who hadn't had water in a week. Instead of looking disapproving, the cashier handed him another one with a smile. It was clear he wasn't taking advantage - he was somebody caught in the same situation we all were and just needed some extra help.

It's what I love most about that night: it reminded me that when trouble happens, most people will be there to help. That night was special: strangers smiled at each other, people stopped ignoring each other as they passed on the sidewalks and streets to exchange knowing glances and comments about the power being out, people offered free BBQ to passersby, and as the night settled in, we all looked up at the sky to appreciate the beauty that was masked by our city's lights. It really seemed like everybody wanted to share the experience with everybody else - for that one night, we were all in it together.

Update: I'm very proud to report this last little bit of news: according to the video you can find here, Canadians made up 30% of people participating in Earth Hour. Yay Canada!


  • At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It makes one proud to know that Canadians more and more are understanding how man has effected to world and are willing to do something about it. Must be part of our great education system!!!!

    I loved our Earth Day Parade with kindergarten when we chanted Mother Earth, Mother Earth
    We love you
    We love you
    and then added:
    we will recycle, or, we will not waste or we will not break glass
    We made banners and musical instruments from recylced material. Our broken bottle problem seemed to improve after a few years.

    All symbolic situations to help improve our world are necessary!

    Keep blogginh!!! mOM

  • At 1:07 PM, Blogger Suldog said…

    Loved the story about the blackout. It reminded me of being a kid when the lights went out in 1968. It was, so far as I know - I may be remembering incorrectly - the biggest blackout ever. The entire Eastern Seaboard of the US, at least. Might be worth writing about on my blog, how it was for me as an 11-year-old. Maybe.


Post a Comment

<< Home