It's been less than a hundred years since homes had electricity, outside of major cities. My grandparents lived without it for decades. Indoor plumbing? A rare luxury until about the same time. Early 20th century wealthy folk first turned an extra bedroom into a bathroom, but it was years before clean water delivery systems were in place and sewage removal became effective.
I've been camping enough times to know that I can survive with an outhouse, a pot of hot water and a wash cloth instead of a shower, and brush my teeth using a Sierra cup of water from the creek. But I don't want to have to do it. Certainly not for any length of time, anyway. Plumbing and electricity are not luxuries, they're necessities, right?
What percentage of the world's population still lives without indoor plumbing and electricity? Would you believe 60%. It's true! Over 4.2 BILLION people don't have flush toilets, let alone baths, showers, hot tubs, saunas, or swimming pools. Electricity is more available -- 75% of the world's citizens have electric power, at least to some degree. Most of the communities without it are in sub-Saharan Africa and in India, predictably.
But are you aware that 1.6 million Americans live without indoor plumbing? And although almost all homes are built with electric wiring, many still live in shacks without power, are homeless, or can't pay their electric bill and do without. Some people wonder why so many homeless folks hang out under the Burnside Bridge in Portland. Simple -- there are electric outlets down there. Those lucky enough to have a phone can charge it. Some even have hot pots to warm a little water.
There's not a lot we can do for people without power or plumbing. Civic programs address the problems as best they can. We've received financial assistance for our energy bills once or twice in the past, as many do. Here's the interesting thing, though -- the people doing without may be the most likely to survive a major disaster.
Who knows what the future holds? I know electromagnetic pulse weapons have been developed around the world -- weapons that could destroy an entire country's electric grid in minutes. Enough of those countries hate America that this is not a threat to ignore. Or if that sounds too conspiracy-theory-ish for you, what about the likely advent of major seismic activity up and down the west coast? No conspiracy there, just good old Mother Nature.
We live on a violent planet. Even though many of our luxuries are incredibly recent, we've had them for our whole lifetimes, so we assume they always have been and always will be there. For everybody.
Take a moment, please, to think about how young our modern civilization is, compared to the history of mankind, let alone the history of the planet. We know nothing, and we're extremely vulnerable. Take a moment to look around your home and think about how you'll cope when the water and power go off. Government studies, such as those by the EMP commission, estimate that 90% of Americans would be dead within two years if the power went out. We're not prepared to survive disease, the inability to call for help, the necessity of acquiring our own food.
The other day, one of my booth helpers wasn't able to tie a knot. Any knot. Seriously. I said he needed to join the Boy Scouts. Those guys are on the right track with their motto: Be prepared. No kidding.