If the pandemic has done anything, it’s redefined our perception of cost. It’s estimated the coronavirus will end up costing Americans $16 trillion, a cost that is spread out over the next decade, and one that includes an estimate of the value of human life lost.
That’s an eye-popping number. It’s money and resources that will be diverted to purposes unimagined a short year ago.
It’s a massive amount of money that few question because there was no acceptable alternative; in other words, expensive, yes, but expensive compared to what? Taking no precautions? Spending nothing to get the vaccines in place? Opting for herd immunity from the outset, accepting that our death totals would be many-fold beyond what they are?
There is also the fact that spending this amount, accompanied by the research, has also been an investment. What we know now can be applied to make us less vulnerable to the next virus. We’ve also learned about the advantages of working at home. New businesses have been launched. New software has been developed. The $16 trillion will, in many instances, produce a return.
It’s also given us perspective. It’s now a fair consideration to be asked when considering other ventures and other needs.
For example, in Bill Gates’ new book on averting the climate crisis, he makes the case for nuclear power, but nuclear power rewired in ways that deal with the waste issue and arms proliferation. He’s invested heavily in a process to build a 345-megawatt plant [about half the size of Vermont Yankee] with a billion-dollar cost.
It’s expensive. But compared to what?
If Mr. Gates is correct, we need to be at a zero-emission level by 2050. The alternative, he says, challenges the planet’s future. If we use the $16 trillion figure as an example, a similar investment in Mr. Gates’ nuclear power project would build 16,000 reactors, producing 5,520,000 megawatts of power. That’s roughly 8,600 nuclear reactors the size of Vermont Yankee, which produced 40 percent of Vermont’s power. Mr. Gates’ reactors also require a minuscule amount of land in comparison to most other sources of energy.
No one expects all our resources to be devoted to Mr. Gates’ vision of nuclear power, including Mr. Gates. But the potential casts a completely different light on the challenge the world has in dealing with the climate question. It’s doable. We have the resources. We have the time. The alignment that needs to be put in place is political, which involves timing, commitment and the selling of the idea. The science behind the technology is immensely complex and exacting; but it pales in difficulty compared to the issue’s politics.
The same question of expense versus the alternative applies on a smaller scale. In Vermont, for example, we’re exploring the question of how to bring the internet to the 70,000 or so Vermont homes that don’t have decent service. It’s roughly a billion dollar climb, but, at the same time, Vermont’s on the cusp of spending a billion dollars over five years to update its computer systems.
Perspective. The pandemic has turned the workplace upside down. Working remotely has become routine. Vermont’s economic future depends on taking advantage of the change. Bringing high speed internet to rural Vermont — whether by Elon Musk’s Starlink’s satellite system or by a combination of options — isn’t debatable. It’s expensive, but, again, compared to what? Doing nothing? Doing a minimal amount while other states step ahead? Doing nothing allowing the potential of the times slip through our fingers?
As a state [and as a nation] these are precisely the conversations we should be having. A crisis is a horrible thing to waste. We’ve been given a new perspective. Let’s use it.
by Emerson Lynn