Hurricane Sandy has provided yet another reminder of our practical and psychological dependence on a steady supply of electricity. Granted, the current devastation to the energy grid is a distribution, rather than a supply, crisis. Nevertheless, utopian greens should take note. Undoubtedly many of the Brooklynites and Lower East Siders desperately searching for ways to recharge their cell phones and iPads share their cohort’s usual scorn for coal, fracking, and nuclear. But nearly every one of them would jump at the opportunity to crank up a greenhouse-gas-spewing generator, if that would get their wired (and lighted and refrigerated) lifestyle going again—and understandably so. Even a desert-sized bank of Solyndra-built solar panels is unlikely to do the trick at the moment.
But Sandy is also a reminder of the ongoing necessity of blue collar workers—all those hard hats trying to repair power lines and pump the water out of miles of homes, tunnels, and subway tracks. A universal population of college graduates, the desideratum of nearly all Democrats and far too many Republicans, composed as it inevitably would be of marketing and ethnic studies majors, would be of little use in rescuing the tri-state area from its catastrophic blow. Yes, more engineers are also needed–in the long run, to try to design more resistant infrastructure, and in the short run, to diagnose the current ruptures and plan a strategy of attack. But manual labor is a crucial component of the current recovery. To be sure, many of these hard hats belong to recalcitrant and budget-breaking public employee unions. But their power is slight compared to the teachers unions. And unlike teachers, who enjoy regular paeans of praise from politicians and advocates, utility workers rarely are the object of aspiration and admiration.