This last week in Texas for me was life changing, and I want to share my insights with you while they are still top of mind.
Electricity and Heat that We Take for Granted
On February 15, shortly after midnight, the power went out in many areas of Austin, Texas, USA, including mine. I spent most of that day camped out in front of the fireplace, trying to stay warm, while frigid temperatures, winds, and falling snow turned the backyard into a winter wonderland.
Survival Mode for Electricity
I went into Survival Mode strategizing about how to stay warm and stay in touch with family who were understandably worried. I discovered that the brick chargers I thought I could depend on did not work. What kept our iPhones and Apple iWatches charged up was the use of a couple of very powerful automobile chargers my husband Carl purchased to jump the batteries in the cars when necessary.
Why It Happened: It Was All about Profit and Not About Wise Decisions
Most of the State of Texas, in its infinite wisdom has historically chosen to remain separate from the grids covering the rest of the United States. The organization, obviously misnamed ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) made a fatal error some time ago.
Run mostly by folks who do not live in Texas and thus do not have to suffer the consequences of their decisions, ERCOT decided----against the recommendations of power authorities---not to winterize their power-generating systems, including wind and more classic fossil fuel structures. The ERCOT grid simply could not handle the additional load caused by the frigid temperatures. Some areas of the state had rolling backouts, we lost power for about 20 hours. Compared to other areas, we were quite fortunate. However, I can confirm that it was a very long 20 hours!
Planning Ahead to Reduce our Stress
Since we still had water and a propane lamp my husband had from his camping days, I suggested we take our shower and bath before darkness fell and the temperatures dropped even further. At that time, it was 52-degrees Fahrenheit in the Master Bathroom and 55 in the Master Bedroom. I chose to put together blankets and quilts and bed down in front of the fireplace. I had on long underwear, flannel pajamas, and a flannel nightgown, all topped with a hat and a down jacket we had purchased in Antarctica. It was quite a picture. And just as I was falling asleep at 7:58 pm, the power came back on. Using a space heater and the house heating system, we warmed up the bedroom to about 63 or 65, certainly tolerable for sleeping under the covers, especially with so may layers. I thought we were safe, but. . .
On Tuesday, the Water Failed
The water pumps were also connected to the electrical grid and when the electricity failed, and water pumps stopped working, the pressure dropped, and many areas of the city and the state were without water. Others less fortunate than we are not only had no power and no water, but due to the frigid temperatures, their water pipes burst. As we saw the water pressure decreasing, I filled a gallon bottle that had held apple juice. Ten minutes after that event, we lost water.
Without Water for Washing, I Had to Get Resourceful
Imagine trying to wash vegetables for a salad or trying to wash the parts of a blender used for making smoothies---without running water? We solved these problems by melting, filtering, and boiling snow. Yet, these challenges paled, compared to the problem of sanitation. That problem bothered me most of all. We didn't want to waste drinking and washing water on flushing toilets and my husband came up with a clever way of making sure that no solid waste went into the toilets. Still, not having been able to flush the toilets for days was very vexing to me.
Finally, on Sunday, when the temperatures warmed significantly, the huge amount of snow on the roof melted. Placing bowls and pots under the down spouts, I was able to capture several gallons of water, and happily went throughout the house, filling and flushing the toilets. The average toilet requires three gallons of water to flush; the low-consumption ones require about two gallons. I felt a sense of relief and freedom, I had not felt since we had lost water.
Several Lessons Learned
I learned many things about myself during this ordeal: First, I learned that I am pretty resourceful, but that that talent comes at a cost of a lot of energy. I also learned that humans have individual "Goldilocks Zones*." My comfort zone is embarrassingly narrow. When the ambient temperature is below 70 or above 80, I am typically less comfortable.
The legendary Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, slept on top of the covers with the windows open through the worst winters to condition himself for his explorations. Some people take daily cold showers to toughen themselves. Sadly, without electricity, I went into Survival Mode to conserve my energy---and my mental health.
Adaptability will help Us a Lot
First, we must learn to be better at living with physical adversity. This weather event hit the State of Texas very hard, and it will not be the last. Recently, when the Billionaire Bill Gates was on television, he showed a map of the United States with the 2020 climate-related events; there were dozens of them, including fires, floods, hurricanes, winter storms, tornados, and more---not to mention the Pandemic of epic proportions. Whether or not these events were generated by human activity or not, they happened and will continue to occur. So our choice as human beings is adapt or suffer; I prefer the former.
Futurists can help!
If we fail to plan, we plan to fail. We must get better at planning---much better! We are long past the time that we need to start putting people before profit. People died in Texas from these decisions. Futurists are in the business of helping people and organizations plan for contingencies. How prepared is your organization? Have you considered how you will handle disasters? Why? Because they will happen.
And not only that, but they are also happening at an every-increasing rate. And these unexpected events are not just due to climate change. As innovation quickens the pace of evolution, we can expect an increasing number of man-made wild cards. Take the time to invest in scenario planning and/or at least mind-mapping. You will be glad you did.
A New Appreciation for a Hot Shower---and More
"Sponge baths" get old quickly. Certainly, they are better than not washing, however, they are no substitute for a hot bath or shower. This entire experience gave me a new appreciation of central heating and water that flows from our taps, not to mention toilets that flush at the touch of a handle. What could you learn from my adversity?
© Copyright 1998-2021 by The Herman Group of Companies, Inc., all rights reserved. From 'The Herman Trend Alert,' by Joyce Gioia, Strategic Business Futurist. (800) 227-3566 or www.hermangroup.com
The Herman Trend Alert is a trademark of The Herman Group of Companies, Inc. Reprinted with permission.