Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, October 31, 2011

I admit it, I'm totally spoiled

For the second time in two months, bizarre weather has knocked out my electricity supply, and apparently it's going to take a week to get it back once again. Big deal, right? People got along just fine without electricity for a million years or whatever (depending on when you want to start calling the critters people), I can certainly make it for one week.

Think about it -- electricity delivered to the home from central generating stations has been the general way of life in the United States for only about 100 years. It didn't make it to rural areas until much later -- the Rural Electrification Act was passed in 1936. I'm reading Daniel Yergin's biography of petroleum (I think that's a fair description), The Prize, and you may not have thought about this before, but John D. Rockefeller grew rich selling kerosene for lighting. Petroleum burst onto the scene as a substitute for tallow candles and whale oil. Powering engines came, including electrical generators, came much later.

In this brief historical moment electricity has completed transformed our society, and our daily lives such that it is indispensable. I happen to have heat without electricity, because I have a Vermont Castings Defiant wood burning stove, but I don't have running water, and I'm reduced to reading by candlelight. No way to take a shower, vacuum the floor, charge my computer or cell phone, watch television -- getting news of the outside world, if I didn't have a nice well-powered office to go to, would require purchasing a bunch of wood pulp with ink on it. I can cook a meal on top of the wood stove -- and I did, actually, on Saturday. But I couldn't wash the dishes. If I decide to tough it out, I'll have to carry a bucket down to the stream to haul up water, and heat it on the stove top, all by candle light since it's basically dark shortly after I get home.

Well yeah, that's what people used to do. They must have been miserable, right?

4 comments:

robin andrea said...

When I'm hanging the laundry outside to dry, I often think that living the old life took all day long.

A generator is a very good thing.

roger said...

gravity water flow,from a tank higher than the house. wood fired water heater. tres low-tech. both on our list of improvements to be made.

also battery backup. higher tech.

Cervantes said...

That's true Robin -- women did much of that work. Indoor plumbing, followed by washing machines and dishwashers and vacuum cleaners actually helped liberate more women to do paid work -- although of course they're still mostly stuck with the housework that's left. I remember when people used to talk about the social impact of these "labor saving devices."

muebles en albacete said...

The guy is definitely right, and there's no question.