Something my wife and I have always done, when confronted with apparently impossible situations, is to consider, "What's the worst that can happen?" We find that we are left with two main benefits when we do this. Firstly, we confront fear that is based in ignorance. Once we educate ourselves about the potential risks of situations then the blind fear is toppled. In the majority of situations we find that actually there is nothing to fear. Secondly, we find ourselves in a position to more easily accept, or make peace with, the worst that the situation could potentially deliver. It is an empowering process. So what is some of that risk with regards to a potential national blackout?
We are primarily faced with having no electricity. In terms of a population of healthy individuals, nobody will instantly fall on the ground dead. Not having light bulbs illuminated will have no adverse affect. In fact this specific point could have an immensely positive affect in that people would have the opportunity to go to sleep earlier. There have been countless studies into the positive affects that sleep has on human emotions, physical health and psychological well being.
Of course food preparation would be the next item raised as a point of concern. With a small mindset shift, families will quickly find that there are alternative forms of heat creation that can be used for cooking. Gas would be the first option that most people would consider. Being a braai nation, I'm sure wood and coal cooking would be high on the list of options. Now it's not the focus of this article to espouse the pros or cons of each option because there are some definite cons in regards to these two options. However there is solar cooking as well and just recently I've stumbled across an alcohol gel that can be used for cooking as well.
In our modern, technological society people will naturally say, "What about my cellphone? And what about my iPod? And what about my TV?" Now I do recall an anecdote about a blond who falls dead when someone removes her earphones (listening to the earphones that person found an audio recording which reminded the blonde to breathe in and out). It's pretty certain that that was simply an anecdote and nobody has actually died from not having technology available. You might find that all sorts of creativity will be restored without the distraction of technology. However this does bring us to the next consideration.
What about emergency services like hospitals and life support systems? Indeed this becomes a sad consideration because without alternative energy sources patients could certainly die. Automatic electricity backup systems only last for a limited period and very often these are diesel generators, which need replenishing of fuel. Forethought and some planning now could avoid this potential heartache.
Preservation of fresh food from farms is directly dependent on electricity as well. So our fresh produce supply chain would be immediately challenged. This is where fear starts gnawing at people's mind. People can start acting violently just to secure some food. I sincerely believe that every person who owns even 2m of land must learn to plant their own vegetables. If you know how to sow and reap then you will eat.
After approximately 2 weeks, the water resevoirs will run dry. This is because the population will use the water that is in the pipes. However the pump stations that maintain the resevoir levels will not be operational without electricity. Now I certainly hope that the local government would have some contingency plans because humans can only live for 48 hours without water to drink and if people become violent over food it would take a lot less to become violent over water. This problem would need specific and considerable thought in South Africa as, believe it or not, we are a water scarce country. People with land could try dig boreholes. If you have hard roof areas you would consider rainwater tanks as water storage. Perhaps the biggest challenge in that regard would be protecting it from potential theft. Other people should try storing water in containers while they have access to water.
Of course an economically driven mind would mention the damage that a blackout could have on the economy. This is true. However when one considers the potential long term threat of the need to fight for survival, then the fact that your computers stop working will become less relevant. However business only has a value in a capitalistic society. In an event like this that is perhaps not adequately and rapidly resolved, society will have to adapt.
However we are now working on the assumption that the electricity has not been restored in months. Based on Eskoms press, they says it would take 2 weeks to jump start the electicity grid from scratch. One must also bare in mind that the grid collapsing would not be due to a shortage of fuel. It's due to excessive demand overloading the system. So in the event that the our worst fear is realised (that there is no electricity) the authorities would immediately start working on restoring the grid. Therefore it would be a limited time-frame that the population would need to survive before the electricity was restored.
When I consider all this, I think that some short term planning would see my family through the worst part of such a situation, which must be stressed as being highly unlikely to occur in the first place. It is possible for everyone to make it through and therefore there is very little to fear.