Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Power down

One of the standard memes of the "zombie apocalypse" school of Peak Oil doomerism is that once the power goes out, society will swiftly start to unravel. The lights will go out, the shelves will empty of food, water will stop flowing from the taps, and the ATMs will no longer dispense cash. Then the looting and the mayhem will begin, the story goes. Grab your bug-out bag and your semi-automatic and head for the hills!

Well, something like the lights-out situation seems to have happened in Venezuela. Seventy percent of the country was without electrical power:

Power cut leaves most of Venezuela without electricity (BBC).A power cut has left 70% of Venezuela without electricity, including parts of the capital Caracas.Traffic lights, coffee vendors and cash machines were all hit by the blackout, as Ian Booth reports.

And there are ongoing food shortages as well: Could smuggling be to blame for Venezuela's food shortages? (BBC)

And yet obla-di-bla-da, life goes on, just as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when gasoline was rationed. The point is, a lot of shit can happen without society totally coming apart.

The president of Venezuela blames the right-wing opposition, and of course I'm sure this will provide plenty of ammunition for the opponents of "socialism." Who knows that the truth is? It is interesting, however, to note how countries that buck the Neoliberal paradigm always end up with shortages and rationing. Given "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," it's very easy to be paranoid. I recall the allegations that the army was behind the power shortages that drove Morsi from power in Egypt. If you think Maduro's allegations of conspiracy are unrealistic, I urge you to watch the film, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" in its entirety.

Another sign of a post-peak world in Venezuela: Abandoned Caracas skyscraper is home to 2,500 squatters (Gadling)

Before you get too cocky, though:
1 in 9 of the country's bridges are rated as structurally deficient, meaning they require significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement.  
Of the 84,000 dams in the U.S., 14,000 are considered "high hazard" and 4,000 are deficient. It would cost $21 billion to repair these aging dams. 
42% of the country's major urban highways are considered congested, and 32% of major roads in the U.S. are in poor or mediocre condition. 
Even though a third of Americans don't drive cars, 45% of households lack access to transit.
There are 240,000 water main breaks in the U.S. each year, and many water mains and pipes are over 100 years old. 
The Federal Aviation Administration anticipates that the national cost of airport congestion and delays will nearly double from $34 billion in 2020 to $63 billion in 2040. 
90% of locks and dams experienced an unscheduled delay or service interruption in 2009. Barges being stopped for hours can prolong transport of goods and drive up prices. 
Congestion on rail lines is costing the U.S. economy about $200 billion a year, or 1.6% of economic output. 
Although public school enrollment is gradually increasing, national spending on school construction declined to $10 billion in 2012, about half of what was spent before the recession.
National Park Service facilities saw 279 million visits in 2011 and has a deferred maintenance backlog of $11 billion. 
10 Signs that U.S. Infrastructure is a Disaster (Business Insider)
America's roads and bridges have been eroding for decades, but the deeper they fall into disrepair, the less money there is to fix them. First, the recession crippled local budgets, cutting the money available for transportation projects. As states began to recover, the federal government adopted its own mandatory budget cuts via sequestration. Then last month, the federal legislation that annually funds transportation projects across the country hit a roadblock of Republican opposition that throttled multibillion-dollar transportation bills in the House and Senate.
The new political deadlock in Washington, D.C., comes as the Federal Highway Administration estimates that bridge and road repair needs have escalated to $20.5 billion a year.
Every day, U.S. commuters are taking more than 200 million trips across deficient bridges, according to a variety of analyses, and at least 8,000 bridges across the country are both "structurally deficient" and "fracture critical" — engineering terms for bridges that could fail if even a single component breaks.
"These bridges will all eventually fall down," said Barry LePatner, a construction attorney who has documented bridge deficiencies in all 50 states.
Across U.S., bridges crumble as repair funds fall short (LA Times)

P.S: I should also note that both Google and Amazon went down in August: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23762526
Visitors to the US shopping site were greeted with a message saying: "Oops! We're very sorry," alongside a "500 Service Unavailable Error" report.  
The site returned online about half an hour after the problem was first flagged by users of the news site Reddit. 
It follows Google's two-minute downtime on Friday. That affected the firm's main search page as well as its Gmail email service, YouTube video site and Drive storage product. 
Analytics firm GoSquared reported the fault caused a 40% dip in worldwide internet traffic. Google has not explained the cause.
A hiccup on the way to the Singularity?

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