Yesterday morning I was at the SikhNet office working and noticed how it was unusually cold. After further investigation I realized that there was no gas….and therefore no heat for the office. I didn’t quite understand the impact of this till later in the day when I found out that there were natural gas outages all over New Mexico. I kept on working most of the day, bundled up in my winter jacket in the office trying to keep my fingers from becoming "ice cubes" with some hot tea from my electric kettle. Every once and a while I would reload the page for the New Mexico Gas Company to see if there were any updates.
Currently over 25,000 homes are without natural gas, which for most of them means no heat, no way to cook food on stove, and with the coldest temperatures in 30+ years, risk of water pipes freezing and breaking is very high!
In spite of the gas outage, the sevadhars who organize the weekly Thursday langar were able to still make food using an electric convection oven. I was sure there would be no Langar, but was happy to see that in spite of the gas problems langar went on and everyone really appreciated being able to come together and warm their bellies and talk about what was going on.
By the end of the day I realized that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix like the power just coming back on and going on as normal. Apparently in situations like this when the gas goes out a person from the gas company has to go to each house/location to restore the gas and reset the meters. Just imagine trying to do this for 25,000 homes!! So even if the gas was/is back now it will likely be many days before most people get their heat back.
I didn’t have any type of electric heater so was trying to figure out how I can heat our house and prevent pipes from freezing. I managed to buy some firewood from a friend who had just helped deliver trucks of wood to a few others. Mata Mandir Singh the super langar sevadhar was gracious enough to share some of his wood with me. I was wondering what he was still doing in the langar kitchen after having cooked the langar for everyone early in the day. I thought he was still cleaning up (at 6pm), however realized he and a few others were cooking food to bring to some of the local emergency shelters. People may have some warmth in the shelters….but no food. It was so inspiring to see them jump to serve in the need of the time while everyone else (myself included) was scrambling to take care of themselves.
Every store in New Mexico was sold out of any type of heating device. No heaters, no pipe heating tape….nothing. Even though I have some firewood that was more for emergency because my fireplace wasn’t very well designed and smoke "spills" out into the house. Also I needed some type of way to heat my boiler room (in the garage) which apparently is the most likely to get frozen/broken pipes. Since there were not heaters I moved down to the lighting isle of the hardware store to look for those bright flood lights. I figured that one of those high wattage lights should do the trick for generating some heat. As I look around in the giant hardware store people are all scrambling around looking for things to "protect their home".
After I bought some of those lights I found out that my parents house had some electric heaters that we could use. Yay! So I went and picked those up relieved to have something to warm our house. Thankfully we slept with a warm house, though our kitchen cold water pipe is frozen so still working on that so that we can get drinking water.
Unfortunately many of the areas that were without heat/gas were cities/towns that have a lot of poverty. It’s always interesting that somehow places with people of lesser means often get the short end of the stick. It’s as if there is behind the scenes politics and decisions being made about who is going to get the little bit or gas/resource that is left. So the wealthy and people who have the means often times are not affected while those that will be impacted most…are.
This whole situation is one of those wake-up calls relating to our reliance on "the system". It’s amazing how we can have water, electricity, gas, food and other things so easily available in our homes and cities. However, when one of those delivery systems break down then it impacts people greatly. It’s like a stack of cards. You pull out one piece from the system and the cards fall.
I feel like in the coming years there is the possibility of a lot of instability in our world. This could be the result of natural disasters, financial impacts, political problems, wars, or just about anything. Now that we are more and more reliant on "the system" it has the potential to create a huge amount of chaos in the world. It is a wake-up call to me personally to work more on being prepared for any kind of disaster. Just imagine if the water stopped coming out of your faucet, or food supply was cut off. People would freak out! The civility of our communities are very dependent on things being stable. It reminds me of the event that happened in Bolivia (2000 ?) where all water rights were sold by the corporate government to private interests. The company even said that the people didn’t have the right to collect rain water!! That was the last straw, after which all the people revolted and threw out the current government and reclaimed the water rights.
So while I sit in my house right now still warm…typing on my computer with an internet connection…and a bit inconvenienced by this whole situation here in New Mexico it brings me back to think about our fragile system. We all should be thinking about ways that we can conserve our resources and become less reliant on systems that can break down easily. Much of our food comes from far away places (even other countries!). Water resources are quickly disappearing as we waste so much water and over develop. I wonder what the world will be like for my grand kids.We are doing a bad job right now.
What can little old me (and you) do about all this? It may seem like an individual can’t do much with a problem so big, however that is untrue. Every small change that each of us make adds up. Aside from continuing to be more conscious of my consumption and waste, I’m definitely going to be thinking about things I can do to my future home to make ourselves less reliant on the system.
Just last month I was watching a cool documentary called "The Garbage Warrior" with the New Mexico (Taos) based Michael Reynolds and his green "disciples" who have devoted their time to advancing the art of "Earthship Biotecture" by building self-sufficient, off-the-grid communities where design and function converge in eco-harmony. We need more "Garbage warriors" and people taking steps to make a chance…or we’ll not have a sustainable place to live and survive on.
Enough Doom and Gloom. Just as we sing in Gurdwara in the "Song of the Khalsa" …When things are down and darkest, that’s when we stand tallest….". It often takes tragedy for people to wake up and make some necessary change. So, time will tell how we do.
In the mean time my prayers are with everyone here in New Mexico and other places who might be without heat and food in these cold times. It could be quite a few days till they are able to restore gas/heat to the over 25,000 homes and business.
As my wife posted on Facebook a few minutes ago: "So glad I’ve been practicing taking cold showers for the past year. Makes today a lot easier. It’s 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 degree Celsius) this morning instead of yesterday’s negative -9 degree Fahrenheit (-23 degree Celsius). Woohoo!"…I guess everyone is going to be either stinky…or having a taste of the healing cold shower!