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  • A while ago in South Africa there were regular, staged power outages called load shedding. For a time there simply wasn't enough juice to go around. The schedule was posted on the Eskom website and you could look up and figure when it was your turn for cold showers, candles and refrigerator clean out opportunities. There were brisk sales in generators and rechargeable lamps. In a land where a security is a serious preoccupation, people got anxious. Electric gate motors, alarm systems, motion detectors, automatic lighting, CCTV cameras, all of it was useless junk once the battery pack wound down.

    The solution included some of the world’s largest if not the largest coal fired electrical plants and running alerts on TV to show if the area was in the green, yellow, orange or red zone for electric consumption. Some countries color code for terrorism and some color code for energy consumption. I am sure there is a corollary somewhere in there. However, there seem to be a few personal behaviours that indicate that people have not yet accepted any real sense of personal responsibility:

    The number of super-sized flat screen boxes on the curb that festive season
    The electric heaters cafes have mounted outside to keep their patrons warm
    A clear sense that it is a right to be able to have a steady supply of fresh while the air-con is running.

    Shutting off non-essential appliances was clearly for someone else.

    One night, driving home and seeing our lights on and breathing a sigh of relief, only to have the lights click off right as we turned into the garage, I remembered walking in Bass Harbor after a winter storm.

    I had been out to the lighthouse to watch the sun set and dream of getting back to the island. I walked home in the dark with the new snow scrunching beneath my boots. As I came up to the crest of the hill above the town, the power went off. The bright modern vista of the flood lit gas pumps at the store and the few streetlights, and the coolly alien glow of the TV gods in every house. They all vanished and the landscape was pristine with snow and silence.

    I waited and watched there on the top of the hill above the town. Watched my breath smoke in the starlight. Watched the darker shadows where before there was light and life.

    After a time, one by one, lights came on. Not glaring and sharp edged like before. These were the soft and deeper yellow glow of kerosene lamps and candles. I watched the harbor come back to life but to the life of another age. As though I had stepped through a veil of time and emerged a hundred years ago. A time traveller arriving home at last.
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