Infrastructure is boring. No one wants to talk about it around a water cooler. Given a choice of talking about infrastructure or the upcoming Packers game, football wins every time. Infrastructure is almost completely invisible. It is assumed, taken for granted. We are only aware of it when it fails. Even so, we only notice it for as long as it takes to get things up and running again.
Moreover, infrastructure is a difficult thing to define. In one sense, everything is infrastructure. One definition is as follows:
the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.
Beyond a generic definition of the word, one can question what constitutes a key or critical infrastructure. All infrastructure is important. Yet some aspects are clearly more important than others. Determining what is important is the first step to allocating funds effectively.
Thanks to the pandemic, we have reason to question the integrity of our societal infrastructure. Let’s take a few minutes to ask some important questions of the critical systems we take for granted:
Can We Break Our Dependency on Fossil Fuels?
We cannot break our dependency on fossil fuel until we build out our electric vehicle infrastructure. The good news is that we are well on our way to doing that. There are still a number of hurdles we have to overcome. One of the greatest fears people have with regard to owning an electric vehicle is the lack of a charging station when required. Another is the time it takes to charge the batteries.
There is perception and there is infrastructure. The lived experience for most people is that they almost never have a problem finding a gas station. They see them all the time even when not seeking them out. They still need various apps and guides to show them the nearest charging station. The reality is better than perception. But it is still not where it has to be before EV ownership becomes ubiquitous.
It certainly does not take hours to charge an electric car. But it still takes longer than filling up a gas-powered car. Perception makes the situation far worse than what it is. But technology limitations will ensure that it will always take a little longer to refill a battery than it takes to pour fluid in a tank.
Can Our Health Systems Be Trusted in a Crisis?
Even as Sheldon Barr is named CEO of South Bay Hospital, there are questions about whether or not the nation’s healthcare infrastructure can handle the looming corona crisis yet to come. The first round of the coronavirus is not yet over. And many hospitals are overwhelmed.
Based on the latest news, UK hospitals are not prepared for the second wave. UK hospitals are not alone. Thanksgiving is expected to kick off the second round of the pandemic. There is no evidence US hospitals are ready with sufficient supplies of PPEs, not to mention ventilators. Half the country is still denying the seriousness of the pandemic. Now is the time to start asking important questions about our health systems infrastructure.
Is Election Law Keeping up with an Increasingly Polarized Electorate?
The new President of the United States will enter the office knowing that half the electorate believes he stole the election due to rampant election fraud. Democracy only holds when the population has confidence in the election infrastructure. Right now, that confidence is under attack.
Part of the challenge is that in any given election process, there are always ballots that are shrouded in ambiguity. These are called provisional ballots. We struggle to find a way to elect officials where the will of the voter is always clear. Even when the will is clear, the vote might not count due to a technicality. It also doesn’t help that we have no national elections. We have 50 separate state elections. So two people voting for president will have different rules applied depending on their geography.
This system has always been somewhat fraught. But we work it out because of a basic trust in each other and in the system. Unfortunately, that trust has eroded. Now, we are forced to wonder of our ancient election systems are durable enough to take us into an uncertain future.
When done right, infrastructure is invisible. No one even knows it’s there. These days, we have good reasons to question our fossil fuel alternative infrastructure, our health systems infrastructure, and our election infrastructure.