Our house during Earth Hour, March 2010

I will always remember the day the lights went out.

I was sitting at my desk and everything shut down.  I met my husband at home to find our apartment powerless as well.  Our stove unusable, we decided to venture down to the market for something to eat.  Store after store was locked up due to power outages.  We continued walking aimlessly until we asked an RCMP officer where we might find an open restaurant.  He told us that the entire province and eastern seaboard was experiencing a major black out that could last for days.

Most of us viewed the 2003 blackout as a fluke incident and a novelty.  My husband and I eventually found a cozy place that had opened without power and we dined by candlelight and swiped our credit cards the old-fashioned way.  Save for the uncomfortable heat and spoiled food in our fridge, we were in the clear.

But what if it happened again?  What if we were without power for weeks, or months?  What if the power outage was accompanied by some sort of catastrophic storm, terrorist attack or civil unrest?  It is a plausible and, many argue, a likely scenario.  Our society’s rampant consumption habits paired with our dependence on inefficient, non-renewable sources of energy have left us vulnerable.

Now that I am a mother, the possibility of such an event terrifies me.  While my husband and I might get by in a disaster, would we be able to fulfill the basic needs of an infant?  Do we have enough formula on hand?  Would our home keep us comfortable in a heat wave or ice storm?  In the wake of major campaigns, such as Earth Hour, Earth Day, and Emergency Preparedness Week, my awareness has turned to fanaticism.

According to Public Safety Canada, households should maintain adequate supplies to sustain themselves for at least 72 hours following an emergency.  It is our responsibility to understand the risks in our regions, prepare plans with our families and build a kit that includes basic survival items such as water, non-perishable food, emergency contacts, medications and infant formula.  Additional items, such as toilet paper, matches, fuel and a change of clothes would also prove useful in an emergency.  During Emergency Preparedness Week, the Government of Canada blasts communiques that urge each family to ensure they have a their kit ready to go should some sort of unthinkable disaster arise.

Surely an emergency kit is a wise investment in our family’s security and Canadians, particularly those of us with children or elders in our care, should aim to ensure a few basic items are on hand.  But, if we want to get fanatical, we can go even further.  I obsess over ways to protect food storage, heating, cooling and potable water.  I look to our backyard vegetable garden as a means of food security and try to plan harvests in a way that will maximize the growing season.  I find myself pondering how our household might become less dependent on scarce and polluting energy sources and research the feasibility of solar, geothermal or wind generation on our property.  I’m convinced these kinds of household investments will go even further in ensuring my family is secure.

Then again, isn’t it the role of government to ensure basic needs of their citizens are protected?  It follows, then, that our tax dollars should be invested in renewable energy sources, food security and infrastructure protection.  Yet my national government continues to support oil sands projects in ways that diminish transparency and axed an eco retrofit program that made major headway into energy retrofitting because it was too successful.  Until such a time comes when my federal government agrees to tackle root causes in their emergency management planning, I will continue to feel as secure as those in the Ninth Ward.

According to industry experts, such as Tim Flannery, Bill McKibben and Fred Krupp, our window of opportunity to slow the effects of human activity on the planet are rapidly diminishing.  If we reduce consumption immediately, emissions may scale back to a point where catastrophic events are less likely.  Unfortunately, in my observation many of us continue to play the waiting game: we complain that our leaders are not taking substantive steps while our leaders seek affirmation from us that bold moves on the climate change agenda will assure their posts are secure during the next election.  Unless this cycle comes to an abrupt end, we had better be sure we have more than flashlights in our emergency kits.

A serious paradigm shift is required before the lights go out for good.

Happy Earth Day.