Monday, February 26, 2007

Chaos and Anarchy

Isn’t it amazing how lights turn on when you flick the switch? Engines start when you turn the key? And how about the gas that flows when you squeeze the pump?

The Ontario blackout of 2003 brought out the best in a lot of people. I saw bikers directing traffic, motorists giving stranded commuters rides, and many other random acts of kindness. In retrospect, the acts of kindness weren’t really that random. It was people banding together in times of need. Despite all the good cheer, I also heard horror stories of people taking advantage of the situation. The local convenience store was selling water at $3 a bottle and gas prices went through the roof at the few places that had operating pumps. You can always count on someone to benefit in the free market.

That was losing only one of our energy sources and only for a few days. More recently, an oil refinery catches fire and petro supplies run low and look at the chaos in the streets of Toronto. One can hardly find gas anywhere in the city. There are mass queues at the few stations that still have gas and the atmosphere is hardly cordial.

For those of you who have read Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” you know I’m talking about but everyone else can imagine with me. How would Canadians react if our dependable and largely abundant energy supply disappeared? Would we still have a society civilized enough to stop at intersections and open doors for each other? Cars would stop running and lights would not work. How will we get food, or water (you can assume that municipal water supply will likely dry up as well)? Will ladies still be first or every man for himself? Would currency be worthless? Would governments collapse? Would chaos and anarchy take over?

Our infinite supply of cheap energy might not be so infinite. When it runs out, will our first world reality turn into the third world we only see on TV? It won’t take a comet falling from the sky or a nuclear war to usher in chaos and anarchy. Next time you are gassing up your SUV imagine what you would do if the gas stopped flowing and the lights stopped working. We need to wean ourselves off our high energy consuming lifestyles before the decision is made for us.

I’m going to go get gas now…

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