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Commitment to Shared Systems

In her Atlantic essay “Gratitude for Invisible Systems”, Debbie Chachra describes infrastructure as how “we take care of each other at scale”. Because these systems are only visible when they break, we tend to not appreciate them.

Well, since I first started paying attention to COVID-19 and what it’s consequences might be in January, I sure as hell appreciate infrastructure now. Building up stocks of food so that we are ready to self-quarantine at any moment was easy enough, but what about clean water, electricity, and natural gas?

I do not believe we are through the worst. I still think there is a strong possibility that a substantial portion of the population is incapacitated later this year or next. If an ice storm brings down power lines, will there be enough people well enough to fix them? Or a break in a water main? Or a leak in a natural gas pipeline, which we rely on for heat at home during Vermont winters?

It’s possible to buffer individual homes from infrastructure interruptions, but not easy and not cheap. As Chachra says:

we can collectively fund systems that even the richest, most self-sufficient people couldn’t create for themselves, and we use them to serve the common good

Funding the systems is one thing, but they also need people to work. We live in society because rely on one another to share the work.

I don’t know how to fix a natural gas pipeline and I don’t know how to repair a downed wire. But I do know how to wear a mask, to avoid unnecessary risks, and to fund the food bank and other services we need to get through. Things look a little better right now. Let’s keep them that way and continue taking care of one another.