“The sizzling temperatures in Ohio, combined with power outages, have helped hasten the deaths of three Licking County residents. The coroner’s office says, in three separate cases, the lack of air conditioning contributed to the deaths.
Overall, at least 46 deaths were tied to the heat over the past few weeks, according to a list compiled by the Weather Channel. Virginia saw the most heat-related deaths with 10, followed by Maryland (9) and Illinois (6). Three of the dead were children, with the rest adults between 45 and 83. Other heat-related deaths happened across a wide swathe of the country: Alabama (5), Missouri (5), Ohio (3), Wisconsin (3), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2) and Kentucky (1).”
Upon hearing this news I couldn’t help but keep thinking about how tragic these deaths were; tragic because avoidable. In the case of the 3 people who died from heat in Ohio, they were found dead in their beds, inside of homes without air conditioning. Imagine if that had been your mother or father, or grandparent, who baked to death in their own bed because they lacked something so simple, yet so precious; electricity and air conditioning. It must not be forgotten that although natural events, such as this heat wave, can and do lead to deaths in some cases, many of these deaths can be avoided with proper planning, use of technology, and adequate access to resources. Our society and infrastructure can be designed to protect against these types of unexpected disasters, but alas, they are not because of the privatized profit motive. The number one reason why so many suffered such long power outages, and were exposed to such threatening heat, was because of something as simple as a tree branch falling on an above-ground power line. This has led many to direct their anger toward the electrical companies that have left this outdated and inefficient system in place to cut costs and produce profits.
“Most transmission providers site new lines above ground whenever possible mainly for reasons of cost. Underground transmission lines are five-to-six times more expensive to install than above-ground lines.”
However, the cost of revamping our nation’s power lines pales in comparison to the cost that outages due to inefficient power lines produce. “Outages cost the economy billions of dollars a year, Richard Caperton, director of clean energy investment at the Center for American Progress says, and the investment in creating a national power web would pay for itself and reduce carbon emissions by as much as 18% by 2030.” So, a national initiative to modernize the power system would cost billions, but not to do so would also cost billions, and it would also cost countless more lives. It seems like the choice should be a simple one, in fact, it is supported by other successful examples in the world. Doug Mataconis, writing for Outside the Beltway, notes that:
“The German power grid has outages at an average rate of 21 minutes per year.
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. The choice has been made for reasons of cost. The industry rule of thumb is that it costs about 10 times as much to bury wire as to string wire overhead: up to $1 million per mile, industry representatives claim. Since American cities are much less dense than European ones, there would be a lot more wire to string to serve a U.S. population than a European one.”
Although there are differences between Germany and the US, the comparison still holds, that by burying power lines, or at least modernizing power systems, overly long outages can be avoided and lives can be saved. By putting power lines underground and finding new and better ways to deliver energy and protect against disasters, we could not only make this a safer nation and cut back on carbon emissions, but also put millions back to work doing something phenomenally productive and beneficial for all. But what is missing in this vision is profit. No one makes an obscene profit from this scheme and that is the main reason it will never be wholly implemented under a capitalist, for-profit, system. And this brings me to another point of how other forms of technology are also used not for the good of all, but for capitalist, and for-profit, ends. “Underground [power] lines are challenging to inspect and maintain,” however, experts have said that “Drones and crawling robots could soon make those tasks easier.” It is no secret that there are multiple steps being taken at this very moment to open up the U.S. skies and land for commercial drone use, but this is no guarantee that the amazing technology behind drones will ever be used to usher in a new era of equality and sustainability for all. Drones could be used to install underground power lines and help maintain them, but they could also be used for many useful things, when in reality they are predominantly used to kill suspected militants in other countries and conduct spy missions. Writer Andrew Feenberg in his book, The Critical Theory of Technology, argues that technology, such as that of drones, should be open to all and used to better the nation and raise the standard of living, not just for the rich, but for every citizen, saying
”What human beings are and will become is decided in the shape of our tools no less than in the action of statesmen and political movements. The design of technology is thus an ontological decision fraught with political consequences. The exclusion of the vast majority from participation in this decision is profoundly undemocratic” (p.3).
But there is still a tragic strain of thought in America that sees technology and social utilities not as human rights, but as commodities to be earned and purchased on the capitalist market just like everything else. It amazes me that some see healthcare, food, and education as something to be clawed and fought for, instead of guaranteed rights issued to all living beings simply because they are alive and in need. I don’t understand how people can’t see that when we all have our basic necessities met and we have more open access to the resources we need we will live in a safer, healthier, and more productive society. When people are not in want they will not steal and kill to obtain what they need. When we have smarter technology integrated into our society, we will not see the young and the elderly dying in their beds because of a little hot weather. To get to this state of being, we cannot continue to accept economic inequality or ride on the back of a capitalist shark, we have to take a completely different direction, one that is focused on people, not profit, sustainability, not consumerism. One man who has spent his entire life trying to outline such a society is Jacque Fresco, and his life work is called the Venus Project. Fresco envisions a society that is not dictated by money or politics, but by a scientific outlook concerned with resources, human peace and prosperity, and sustainability. He calls this model a Resource Based Economy. “A resource-based economy would utilize existing resources from the land and sea, physical equipment, industrial plants, etc. to enhance the lives of the total population. In an economy based on resources rather than money, we could easily produce all of the necessities of life and provide a high standard of living for all.”
The message is clear. When society is held under the thumb of profit, lives will unnecessarily be lost and inequality will reign. When society is liberated by the democratic distribution of technology and infused with sustainable practices, lives will not only be saved, but bettered in the most fundamental way. It is up to us to move in this direction, and to fight for equality for all of Earth’s children.