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Elec­trical trans­mission towers. | Pxfuel

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.