The winds may howl. The trees may fall. But in Germany, the lights stay on. There’s no Teutonic engineering magic to this impressive record. It’s achieved by a very simple decision: Germany buries almost all of its low-voltage and medium-voltage power lines, the lines that serve individual homes and apartments. Americans could do the same. They have chosen not to. – David Frum
CAN’T WE ALL AGREE on this? Welcome to another edition of what I’m going to start calling The Unmaking of America.
The CNN headline reads: Want to keep AC on? Bury power lines.
We can’t do anything about felled trees, which applies doubly in Alexandria, where the humid climate has created massive nests of beautifully old trees. However, we can change the reality of people sweltering and even having their health endangered in the current heat waves, if Congress could muster the will to do their job.
When our power went off over the weekend, I took refuge first at Gold’s Gym to work out, then went to Southside 815, a cozy little restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. The subject of burying power lines became a topic at the bar.
Yes, it costs to bury power lines, as David Frum addresses, but it’s not like there isn’t an economic whallup that comes with the crash of a rampaging storm. From Frum:
1. There’s reason to think that industry estimates of the cost of burying wires are inflated. While the U.S. industry guesstimates costs, a large-scale study of the problem conducted recently in the United Kingdom estimated the cost premium at 4.5 to 5.5 times the cost of overhead wire, not 10. [...]
3. Costs can only be understood in relation to benefits. As the climate warms, storms and power outages are becoming more common. And as the population ages, power failures become more dangerous. In France, where air conditioning is uncommon, a 2003 heat wave left 10,000 people dead, almost all of them elderly. If burying power lines prevented power outages during the hotter summers ahead, the decision could save many lives. [...]
…and have you heard about America’s unemployment, the latest bad news hitting Monday on manufacturing? This from Frum, a Republican: Burying power lines is a project that could put many hundreds of thousands of the unemployed to work at tasks that make use of their skills and experience. Do I hear an amen?
That Americans won’t join in together to do something so simple as burying power lines, which requires investing in an infrastructure that prepares us for what climate change will continue to deliver, is another sign of our diminishing greatness.
Because of the Tea Party and Republicans no one has to dare mention “climate change.” Just talk about the economic hardship of people who lose their entire refrigerator of food because they don’t have a generator, causing even more economic fallout we don’t need. Talk about the deaths due to extreme heat, when people are left without air conditioning, the inconvenience of businesses that lose capital amid the extreme weather, patterns that show no signs of abating.
In the tri-state area around Washington, D.C. the situation remains serious. My husband had a short day again yesterday, because there are still tens of thousands of homes without power. He loses wages when he doesn’t get a full day’s work and he’s by no means alone. It’s just part of the economic ripple effect of power outages.
But today’s Congress can’t even muster the common sense in the face of dangerous heat waves, death, destruction and environmental calamity that delivers a contagion of economic punches to do something smart that benefits everyone.
Until Congress can do the simplest things like what Republican David Frum is suggesting, and I’m seconding, we will continue to recede and continue slipping away from the nation we once were.
image via Shutterstock