Throughout the chaos of 2020, evidence of the global reliance on electricity has surged. From kindergarten to college, students now rely almost wholly on computers for online learning. Similarly, in-person employment has shifted to remote work, making Zoom meetings the new normal and slow internet an even greater source of frustration. Friends catch up with one another through video calls, and church services are streamed into families’ living rooms. At-risk individuals order groceries from their phones or computers rather than venturing into the sea of masks at their local Meijer.
This list continues ad nauseam, highlighting the difference between life last year and life in 2020. We are living in a “post-lockdown world,” where the lockdowns have arguably done more harm than the virus itself. For example, 82 recent seroprevalence studies — which measure the level of a pathogen in a population — suggest that coronavirus infection rates may be 55 times higher than previously expected, which would mean the fatality rate is around 0.2%. If these studies are accurate, then the virus’s danger is far lower than has been reported and does not vindicate the expansive lockdowns which have been implemented globally — and are being reimplemented in Europe and North America.
Setting aside the highly-contested issue of the virus’ danger, numerous statistics show that the consequences of lockdowns are also undeniably detrimental. For example, 57.4 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the lockdowns were imposed. Furthermore, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reports increasing domestic violence across the nation, such as in Jefferson County, Alabama, where the sheriff’s office reported a 27% increase in domestic violence calls in March 2020 compared to March 2019. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, in 2020, symptoms of an anxiety disorder are 300% higher and symptoms of depressive disorder are 400% higher than in the same timeframe last year. According to the same CDC study, suicide ideation has doubled since 2018.
In decades past, good energy policy — i.e., policy which prioritizes affordable, reliable energy above expensive, inefficient, intermittent energy — has been promoted as a practical tool for increasing human flourishing. However, when electricity becomes a prerequisite for clocking into work in the morning and putting food on the table, good energy policy shifts away from being an abstract matter of potential flourishing and becomes a concrete question of survival.
Consider the 57.4 million Americans who have filed for unemployment since the first set of lockdowns were imposed in mid-March. For the overwhelming majority on that list, finding a new job relies wholly on access to affordable, reliable energy.
To begin with, electricity is necessary to power the laptops and charge the smartphones that enable the unemployed to search for available jobs. During that search, they’ll rely on electricity to submit their resumes and applications. Suppose they are offered an interview. At that point, they will rely on electricity and technology to attend a meeting on Zoom. Post-interview, many will turn to the internet to work remotely, if they’re lucky enough to land a job during a global crisis. Even those who acquire in-person jobs will rely on email to receive their schedules and on online banking to receive their pay. In the post-lockdown world, access to reliable energy proves itself more necessary than ever.
To help counter the detrimental uncertainty of the job market, increasing danger in interpersonal dynamics, and worsening mental health conditions, people need consistency. With affordable, reliable energy, students can pursue their degrees and employees can provide for themselves and their families. Electricity provides them with some measure of the agency that the post-lockdown world has stripped from them. It enables individuals to pursue an external goal, which can help them to keep the lights on, put food on the table, and save enough money to eventually rebuild their lives and livelihoods. As a result, both electricity and the affordable, reliable energy which secures it are foundational. Correspondingly, policies which threaten energy reliability threaten every individual reliant on energy.
California offers perfect examples of these threats. For example, take Gov. Gavin Newsom’s expensive energy proposals. At the same time as California was enduring statewide electrical blackouts, he announced an executive order demanding Californians purchase exclusively electric cars by 2035. This is not only governmental overreach, but, given the state’s challenges with wildfire, could be life-threatening. With a standard home charger, individuals must charge their electric vehicles overnight to obtain a “full tank,” rather than spending a few minutes at a gas station pump.
By mandating electric vehicles, Newsom prioritizes achieving an ideal above protecting reality. To potentially, minutely reduce carbon emissions, he is willing to actively sign death sentences for California’s families who may need to quickly escape wildfires. Even in less dire circumstances, there will still be occurrences like medical emergencies, where parents need to rush a child to the hospital. In situations like this, waiting on an overnight charge will prove untenable.
Especially in a post-lockdown world, it is crucial to resist policies like Newsom’s, which reject time-tested and proven energy options in favor of utopian fantasies. Fixation on expensive, intermittent sources like solar power ought to be set aside; instead, energy policy should promote the use of affordable, reliable sources, like nuclear energy.
It is essential that policymakers look to human needs to guide policy, rather than attempting to impose unrealistic goals onto states, nations, and the globe. The lockdowns throughout 2020 have proven that our world is reliant on energy. As we look ahead to 2021, we must apply this lesson to policy rather than allowing it to fall, unheeded, by the wayside.
Ceanna Hayes is a junior George Washington Fellow studying politics.