March 21, 2011

Could I live without....?

Consider for a moment what has happened in the last month. There has been the turmoil and overthrow of several longstanding governments in the Mideast. This brings a very real threat of major disruptions to a world solidly dependent on large quantities of  Mideast oil. The crisis in Japan and its effect on not only that country but the world as the aftermath of the earthquake and nuclear nightmares get worse day after day. No one really knows where all this will end or what that journey will be like, but rather substantial shakeups to our daily routines are certainly possible.

That got me to thinking what I could and could not live without. Some things are essential to my survival, some to my happiness and sense of satisfaction. Others are a part of of daily life but I could certainly function without them. This list is by no means complete, but it might be a though starter for you, too.

It would be very difficult  or very unpleasant to live without:

My wife and family. Could I physically survive without them? Yes. Would it turn my world upside down and remove a large share of what I feel makes my life meaningful? Absolutely. If things ever begin to unravel I want to have those most dear to me by my side. 

Freedoms. If I had been born someplace other than The United States or another country in the developed world my sense of what constitutes key freedoms would probably be very different. But, being born to a middle class family in 1949 in America I have come to believe certain freedoms are a part of life. Among those are the freedom to live where I want and choose my life's work. The freedom of the press, of peaceable assembly, to raise my children they way I believe is best and of an orderly and non-violent transition of power are what I expect. On a daily basis I don't think how unusual this list would be to billions of people around the world. But, if suddenly they were gone I would be hard-pressed to adjust.

Basic services: Dependable electricity, clean water, police and fire protection, good medical care, access to safe and plentiful food are certainly high on my very important list. Could I survive without them? Frankly, I don't know. Particularly in Phoenix, making it through a summer without air conditioning would be nearly impossible and is fatal to some of our citizens every year.

An automobile.  It would very very difficult and very uncomfortable to live where I live without access to a car and gas. Phoenix is not designed with pedestrians, bike riders, or users of public transportation in mind. I would most likely survive but it would be extremely limiting, inconvenient, and in the summer, downright dangerous.

Things I could live without but would rather not:

Good friends. As my post of a few days ago made clear, having good friends is important to me. When a friendship ends I feel a loss. When a friendship continues and strengthens my life is enriched. I certainly could survive if I had no close friends, but the effect on my life would be unpleasant.

Access to the world through Internet. It wasn't until 1995 that tapping into the Internet became common. True, it was only dial-up with all sorts of limitations. But, from that point forward the world and our lives would not go unchanged.

Today, the Internet is essential to the smooth functioning of the global economy. It is so much a part of our daily lives we only think about its importance when we lose access for a few hours or days. I am sure you have noticed that one of the first things an autocratic government does when it gets into trouble is to prevent its citizens from connecting to the rest of the world. Could I live without the Internet? Yes. But I would be living in a very different world.

Availability of cultural, sporting and entertainment options. Access to music and books. What brings dimension to my life is the ability, on occasion, to add something different to the usual routine. Music concerts, plays, a hike through the mountain preserves, a picnic on a warm afternoon are spice to my normal diet. While I may someday end up with nothing but a Kindle, for now I enjoy the feel of a book. I enjoy listening to Pandora radio, but live music is just better. Certainly I could easliy survive without any of this, but life would be much less enjoyable.

In reviewing this list it is clear I live a privileged life. In many parts of the world  and for the majority of its population, even clean water and safe food are too much to hope for. Those billions are focused on pure survival and nothing else. I don't feel guilty about what I have. But, I am very much aware of my blessings and my responsibilities to reduce as much as possible the damage I cause to the environment.

Overall, I am an optimist. Excessive worry is a waste of energy and time. But, prudent preparation and awareness are not incompatible with believing things will be OK. Just after beginning to see the end of the horrible economic mess of the last few years now we seem to be entering another period of uncertainty. I am still confident in my future, but my eyes are wide open.
What about your list? What happens if the situation in the Mideast becomes much worse? Do you have any doubt that gas could become $5 a gallon (or more)? Do you think our present way of life would remain unchanged?  What if a cloud of radiation starts circling the globe? How would your life be affected? What you you live without and still function? What might prove to be too much?


  1. I've been thinking about this lately too, it's natural when looking at the images from Japan, seeing just how much they are having to live without.

    Now I know it's because I read more retirement articles than the general population, but it's occurred to me that all the media warnings that we (as a nation) don't have enough for our retirements, are a bit overkill when set against the backdrop of what's going on in Japan.

    The reluctance to cut back, save, sacrifice, and downsize seems downright spoiled when you look at what the Japanese are having to live without. Now I know it's all relative, that it's an unfair comparison, but it has occurred to me our worry that we don't have enough is a pretty high-class problem to have. We should be counting our blessings.

  2. Syd,

    You are exactly right. Our standard of living and frankly, sense of entitlement, is so out of whack with what it is like in the rest of the world we can easily miss the big picture.

    That big picture is whatever the state of our savings or whatever the number of things we may be downsizing out of our life, we live better than probably 95% of the world's citizens.

    That said, as individuals we are at the mercy of our system, If the gas stops flowing, the trucks don't deliver food to the store, and water becomes unsafe to drink we don't have many options.

    Count your blessings but understand the fragility of what that makes them possible.

  3. In some ways I think we are over due for a change. We tend to do "temporary changes", like embrace frugality for a bit while the economy is down, then go back to the old habits. I have a unique experience after living in a country where five dollar gas is the norm (most of western europe) and folks really wonder what we're whining about. I think as a population we are gong to have to make some serious adjustments in the future.

  4. I don't know the exact figure, but around 90% of the world does not have $15 in their pockets. Also, let's not get all bent out of shape and punish ourselves because we think we have more than others. The Japanese haven't lived too shabbily these past 60 odd shaped years since Hiroshima. The Japanese people are the largest savers on the planet, own homes, drive cars and have flat screen TV's in their homes. The Japanese government has a history of severely brutalizing it's people. So, lets just not bring out the hankies just yet.

    Here's a question I'd like to ask you Bob: before air conditioning was even invented, did no one ever live in Phoenix? Was it a ghost town? Vacant? or have families been living there since the early pioneer days of the American West? See how preposterous your belief is that no one today could survive in Phoenix without precious air conditioning?

    When my family went through the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, I completely transformed my life. I relocated my family to upstate farm land. My husband and I built a home that is totally self-sufficient. We pump, filter and clean our own ground water. It took my husband 2 years to perfect our drinking water through trial and error. If electricity fails we have back up generators that run on propane which is drilled and produced here in the US of A. We also are surrounded by farmers who breed meat and poultry, as well as provide eggs, cheeses and other dairy products. Should we not be able to use our car, we already have a steel-built barn put in place that can hold up to 2 horses plus other livestock. My neighbor around the corner raises goats and our home is smack dab in the middle of horse country. We could ride a horse to town to get supplies. The town we live in dates back to George Washington and the Indian nations. They survived. So can we.
    We live on enough acreage to grow our own fruits and vegetables, plus we have our handy farmer neighbors.

    When the WTC was hit, trust me, I wasn't worried about where or when I was going to read my next book, watch my next sporting event, attend my next concert, etc. etc. In retrospect, those things are useless.

    My neighbors do not judge me by the clothes I wear, the car I drive or the balance sheet on my portfolio. Funny how those things are. They judge me on how many acres I own. So much so, that there has been a run on farm land sales up here. Farms are being gobbled up by the Wall Streeters. Do they know something the rest of us don't know? Like how to be self-sufficient? People used to scoff at my husband and I over these past 10 years and what we were trying to accomplish. Now with the Japanese disaster, I don't think it was so funny after all.

    If a circle of radiation comes here, we've got a solid, concrete basement, stocked with provisions. We've got a gun, gold coins, we've got dogs to protect us....I'm not afraid of anything. Anymore.

    Nor am I dependent on a government to swoop in and save me should disaster strike. If anything, Hurricane Katrina should have taught us Americans that much.

    Make whatever plans you think should be made in your life to make you and your family as self-sufficient as possible. Move if you have to. If the future holds peaches and roses for us for the rest of our lives, so be it. BUT, all it takes is that one, one time, as it did for my daughters and I back on September 11, 2001 to alter your lifestyle and categorize what's really important in your life. Trust me, it won't be a live, outdoor concert.

  5. Hi Barb,

    I agree that the way many of us have been living for the past half century can't continue indefinitely. The planet can't handle it.

    I certainly noticed when gas fell back from $4 a gallon to $2.50 the number of bigger trucks and cars increased again. Did those folks really believe expensive fuel wasn't going to return?

    For many I'm afraid thinking about the future means tomorrow or next week, not years down the road.

  6. Morrison,

    I'll let most of your comment stand on its own. You have found something that works for you and your husband and that is great, though I don't think 320 million of us could all live on a farm.

    To answer your direct statement about my foolishness about air conditioning: in the last forty years the average temperature in Phoenix has increased dramatically due to the heat island effect. As recently as the 1970's the nighttime temperature in Phoenix in the summer always dropped into the 60's.

    Now, it rarely leaves the 80's and low 90's. That means the daytime highs are, on average, 15-20 degrees warmer and nights simply don't cool down. Yes, people lived here before AC. But not 3 million of them and not with all the concrete covering most open spaces.

    Every year several senior citizens die from the heat in their houses. Homeless people also are at extreme risk. Heat kills just like extreme cold. Could you survive a winter in Upstate New York with no heat? Not likely.

  7. And if course its worth mentioning that before air conditining, the death rate due to heat and other issues (leaving your home oopen to insects and bus and so on) was highter. What happened was that the rich people went to the hills (be it show low arizona or the catskills or the mountains of north carolina (where my "people" fled from the heat of the east coast).

    When my son was in school in arizona they used to have to play golf at one in the afternoon (at a golf academy). He loved it, but I fell your pain.

    Seriously, my general phsilosophy is that we have to do as best we can for ourselves, be prepared to help each other out, and move on. Ill have a post out on general preparedness and "go bag" ideas shortly.

  8. Hi Barb,

    I enjoy the heat and certainly prefer it to the cold. I grew up in cold and snowy climates, went to college in Syracuse, NY, and lived near a ski resort in Salt Lake City so I know cold.

    If A/C hadn't become commonplace there wouldn't be millions in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston, or Miami. Could I survive without it? Maybe but I wouldn't stick around to find out.

  9. (edited for content by me)

    Bob, We have a wood burning stove and untapped acres filled with abundant trees. I don't know what's worse: the extreme heat or the extreme cold? Or where one could survive without any interference, such as a/c or a fire? I would choose the heat over the frigid cold temperatures. More people live in a desert than the North Pole. There are just 4 or 5 basic human requirements that need to be met in times of disasters. You need a bed to sleep on, a roof over your head, 3 meals a day, clean water to drink and a hot shower (or cold), but at least a way to clean oneself. That's what I have learned in times of trouble. When you don't have those basic necessities, life is unbearable

  10. My generational family has lived in Phoenix for the last 122 years! I remember going to my Nana's and enjoyed her fan and a block of ice. We had evaporative cooling---and I never remember the summer nights falling into the 60's:>) That being said- air conditioning is a huge thing and many could not live without it. What has really changed (besides the concrete) is the amount of people. The winds from the desert are blocked and the lawns are watered (causing humidity). When we lived in Saudi- the temperatures were about the same- we lived without aircon at night because the warm breeze from the desert was cooling- just as it was for my mother's family on the sleeping porch on 5th and Cypress in the 1930's.
    I cannot tolerate the heat in Phoenix now even with air conditioning. When I visit in the summer I make a point of climbing Squaw Peak at night to enjoy the cool of the evening as I once did.

    We lived through a man made disaster. We found much like you stated. Family and freedoms come to mind the most often. Without those we would have been lost. Everything else- we found- tended to be things that we could create or live without.

    Wonderful thinking post!

  11. Good morning, Janette,

    I found the reference to night temps in the 60's from a publicity piece just after WWII. I bet that occurred in outlying areas that were primarily citrus groves where the transpiration from the trees dropped the readings in the 60's. I'm sure you have seen pictures of folks wetting their bedsheets and sleeping on those while on the porch at night.

    We moved here in the mid 1980's and even then there were some summer nights that dropped into the 70's. We could have the windows open with just a fan. No more. The windows are closed in mid-May and opened again in mid-October.

    Thanks for your memories. I've never known of anyone who can trace their roots back 122 years. That is fascinating.

  12. In the late 60s and early 70s, I was a back to the land hippie. I lived out in the mountains, first in Colorado and then in Montana. We were miles from the nearest people, living with no electricity or running water (but with a clean mountain stream close by).

    A favorite topic of conversation was what would you take into the woods to survive. A knife was usually near the top of the list, for example.

    Those days are long gone, but I remember them fondly. However, these days I'm happy to have a comfortable home with heat that doesn't require using a chainsaw.

    Great post--makes you think!

  13. Hi Galen,

    I've never wanted to live in the wilds like you did. Even as a youngster camping was a bit too rustic for me. I am happy as I am but know anything can change in an instant.

    Thanks for the comment and compliment!


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