Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Queen of Spades, Water


It was New Years Eve 2005, when I came across a futuristic scenario written by Carolyn Baker, over at a site that was called, "Adaptation". I can't remember the title of this article, but I suppose after reading it, I knew in my heart that after 35 years of silence, I just had to bring something forth. I had been formally educated and groomed, to criticize such scenarios with historical and scientific fact.

The story went something like this: It related the life of a middle aged couple living in some suburb of Detroit, Michigan, through a diary the wife was keeping. It started out explaining how the young couple through good jobs worked their way up the ladder and into a nice neighborhood where they could raise their children. The husband had a good job at an auto manufacturer and they afforded the good life until he lost his job there. By that time the kids were out of school and pretty much on their own. The wife returned to work to try to make up the difference, but their lifestyle continued to decline. Their neighbors were no better off and soon shortages of food, gas and other items needed for daily living were becoming more common place. Even communication between the couple and their children became spotty, as lines were apparently not in order and the Internet was off and on. Soon, all communication was broken off from their siblings. Also during this time the power was going on and off and the duration of outages was lasting longer and longer. Finally, the couple decided to flee the neighborhood after the power went out for good and roaming gangs of young people were taking what they wanted. Total chaos had taken to the streets and had spread from the inner city to the out lying neighborhoods. Along the way in their flight on foot from the suburbs out towards the countryside, the couple was fortunate to get A GLASS OF WATER A DAY. It wasn't long into the journey that the husband finally perished from a lack of his medication. The women continued on until she happened onto a farm that was willing to take her on. End of story.

Now normally, I'm the type of guy that would set something like this aside. However, this story came from a professional writer with a PH.D, no less! I was outraged! How could someone of her stature drop the ball, so to speak, so profoundly. I decided to email her at once and a spirited email exchange ensued on New Year's Day of 2006, during the Rose Parade. I really didn't have a problem with the story until the power went completely out and yet that fleeing couple on foot managed to even find a glass of water a day! Let alone continue on in this matter! Apparently, no one had ever brought this to her attention. It wasn't long before I suspect she had pulled the article altogether, I can't find it anywhere. It was then, I realized I had made a mistake bringing this folly to her attention. Now, I couldn't use this article in supporting my case. One thing that story did for me, was it deepened my resolve to come forth with my own version of what might happen in the near future. That is, the future up to the die-off, beyond that I was never to have a hypothesis. Back at the old school house, the instructors were quite adamant about theorizing beyond die-off, as they thought there was no point in it.

What the instructors did make a point of are those elements needed for survival, and water was one of them. All life forms on this earth depend on water. The human body is composed of about 70% of water. While the body can survive without food for about five weeks, the body cannot survive without water for longer than five days. On the average, our bodies need at least eight glasses of water a day. A regular glass of water contains about eight ounces. Put another way, our bodies need a half ounce of water for every pound of weight, unless we're very active, in which case we'll need to increase the intake to two-thirds an ounce of water per pound of body weight, daily.

Another aspect of Baker's thought about the couple only getting a glass of water a day, where would that water come from? The story was told that the power had went out for good. I can't remember if this was nation wide, I'm assuming it was, however even if the power was out regionally, say like what happened in August of 2003 when the Northeast Blackout occurred, "city water " would likely stop running after a week. This critical part of our infrastructure, is designed, built and managed on the assumption of contineous power. Of course, most water treatment plants have diesel back ups to keep the water flowing, however, this is just a temporary fix until the power would come back on. Most of these diesel back ups cannot do the work as their electrical counterparts. Most have about a week's worth of fuel stored for just an emergency, but what happens after a week? It's just not feasible that all of the thousands of back ups would be refueled in such a scenario...How? Here's something to think about, how would New York city water over eight million residents without power?

Imagine for a moment, four million people of the Detroit Metropolitan area fleeing out to the countryside looking for a drink of water.....In this scenario, when the power is out, that can only be the case, people will have to go where there is water period, or die. So simple. Don't believe it? Just how many hand pumps do you actually see in the city? Even if there were hand pumps, where are the wells to draw from? Would the water table be at 25 feet or higher in order to use common hand pumps? About the only water these people would have at their disposal would be surface water from ponds, lakes, rivers and such. Much of this surface water is polluted, not fit for human consumption. Sure, this water can be chemically treated but how many people do you know have these tablets? Of course, one could always boil water..... Now we've got real problems, some serious feedback loops are beginning to arise. We have a lot of people sick drinking contaminated water and people who are not accustomed to making fire, suddenly doing so. Could you imagine what the people in the cities of Las Vegas or Tuscon would do if this should happen to them? Could they even walk to water in time? Um, reader, what's your situation with water? Better figure this out...

The class held the topic of water for what seemed like weeks, this I can remember quite well, even after 35 some years. Finally at the end of this discussion, as the instructor made for the door, he said in a low voice, "You all were born from water, without it you shall surely die..." He quietly closed the door behind him and I can still hear him whistling, "Dixie" as he made his way down the hallway..............


FARfetched said...

I would guess that Ms.Dr. Baker was trying to illustrate a point, but you've pointed out something that all storytellers have to remember: excessive unrealism will kill you. Of course, you can write fantasy, but you still have to stay consistent within the bounds of your world.

As I understand it, a typical human can go four days without water. Realistically, that's probably a maximum figure — you're not going to be trucking along for four days then drop dead — you'll probably be immobile somewhere around day 3. I'm not sure whether one glass of water a day would extend life more than a day. Other factors can come into play, like whether there's snow on the ground to melt for water. Been there, done that. :-)

The other hole in the story, as you describe it, is that everyone stays put until things are intolerable and then they all leave at once. The entire population won't go on the move all at once — different people have different tolerance levels, or they'll have somewhere else to go. OTOH, I truly believe that as long as the power stays on in a really dire scenario, there will be a lot of people who will quietly starve to death in front of their TVs.

But water is as essential as it gets — which makes it a good "card" to start with.

yooper said...

Hey Far! Yup, the doc was making a point and a very good one, might I add. This is the very best, near future story, I've read to date and I told her so. In the story, it only related about the couple leaving.

However, what would you and you're family do if you had no water, would'nt you leave and at least try and find some? You're absolutely right about some people not leaving at all. They'll die there waiting.... One only has to look at to Katrina, to realize this.

I suppose, my main point, is that people will be leaving the city and not going into it, under the lights are out scenario. Naturally, most will not make it far, and I think I covered that aspect well.

I read so many scenarios that have people moving into the city, this can only happen if, 1) there is room to do so, 2)the infrastructure is still intact, 3)there is power to enable this infrastructure to work.

Let's look at Detroit for example. What are the people going to move back to? There is nothing there! Besides the infrastructure is very old in Detroit, as in Chicago, New York, Alanta, etc. If you're going to use exsisting infrastructure to make it work, much like your Road Trains, perhaps, it'll have to be done with infrastructure that's newer and not in need of constant attention?

Far, it's very important that you keep in mind I'm describing a lights are out for good scenario.
It's very likely that large portions of the population will be moving out at the same time. They'll all be getting very thirsty much at the same time. Most will have no where to go, they'll be on foot. More on this thought later....

Thanks yooper

yooper said...

Um Far, perhaps some more thoughts about those sitting around waiting for someone to recue them....

Women, by nature, will risk EVERYTHING for security or the illusion of it. There might be a great deal of women who are unwilling to risk leaving the security of home where their needs have been met for some time.

Over at BNB on the topic of water, it was unbelieveable how many, (men and women) would hold out, in hopes to survive on rain water coming from their roof!