Prolonging Lives v. Wasted Futures? The 'Covidism' Dilemma

Are the lives of the youth impacted by coronavirus restrictions worth less than the extended lives of the elderly? This is the debate we must have when faced with the prospect of another lockdown.

'Why, and for whom, are we giving ourselves so much trouble?'
"Why, and for whom, are we giving ourselves so much trouble?"
Gaspard Koenig

The prospect of life in a cycle of lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, masks, antibacterial gel and social distancing is now indefinite. There will be vaccines, but there will also be new variants, new challenges and we will be under new means of surveillance, such as the dystopian "vaccine passport" that has been proposed. COVID-19 has tipped the world into a permanent state of emergency.

Why, and for whom, are we giving ourselves so much trouble? This is a question that inevitably arises for young working people. Among my age group (15-44 years old), the number of patients who have died without prior existing conditions since the beginning of the pandemic in France is 60, according to the latest epidemiological report by Public Health France (a figure that is surprisingly little quoted in government speeches). This compares to more than 10,000 cardiac arrests and more than 20,000 strokes in the same population category over the same period.

Even if it is always possible to be part of this statistical margin of error, COVID-19 is therefore by no means a risk that I should be overly concerned about, to be purely selfish about it.

"It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger," writes David Hume in his "A Treatise on Human Nature." Is it then contrary to reason to prefer an aperitif to the survival of our elders, and if so, why?

We never save lives, we only prolong them.

The way this question is being asked today produces an obvious answer. Slowing down the economy to save lives: who can be against it? Doctors, who, in the absence of parliamentary control, now make public health policy, are doing their job by demanding the strictest possible control measures. They are faithful to their Hippocratic oath, thus updated by the Order of Physicians: "My first concern is to restore, preserve or promote health."

Nevertheless, the same question can be asked in other words. First of all, we never save lives, we only prolong them: We are all condemned to death, as Camus' Caligula shouts with desperate jubilation. Which lives are prolonged and by how many years? According to Santé Publique France, the median age of COVID-19 victims is 85, slightly higher than the median age of death in France. In other words, most of those whose death is prevented by the restrictions already belong to the minority of survivors of their generation.

According to Santé Publique France, the median age of COVID-19 victims is 85 — Photo: Jon Tyson

Moreover, we are not just slowing down the economy: we are actively wasting other lives. These are lives lost for lack of conventional medical examinations and care or as a result of suicides, the "wave" of which could still be yet to come, according to a study by the Foundation Jean-Jaurès. Not to mention the broken lives of bar owners, artists or small shopkeepers unable to work for months at a time or the zombie lives of students stuck in front of their screens, kids hidden behind masks all day at school. These are lives that have long been darkened, the lives of all of us, because we can no longer dance without being considered to be delinquents, have a drink without a waiver or shake hands without suffering public scorn.

This leads to a very different equation, with two variables of the same nature: extended life time versus wasted life time; years gained from death versus years lost to life. These should be precisely quantified and the question of hospital overcrowding should be integrated into this equation, to open an informed debate. Only then will we be able to make a decision that will be political this time – no longer medical.

What we can conclude is that the collective choice in this dilemma reflects the moral health of a society. Between 1968 and 1970, a global pandemic, the Hong Kong flu, killed more than a million people, including several tens of thousands in France. It also affected mainly the elderly. The figures are more modest than for the coronavirus, but the orders of magnitude are comparable. Was it decided to cancel the festivals? Quite the opposite: There was Woodstock, with half a million hippies crammed shirtless in the American Catskills. What do we remember about the late 1960s? Free love and counterculture. Then, society decided to focus on its youth.

Today, the Woodstock generation is among the at-risk people we protect by sacrificing our daily lives. What does this say about our society?

*Gaspard Koenig is a philosopher and president of the think tank GenerationLibre.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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