Impact of the Environment on Infrastructure

The environment has distinctly negative impacts on our infrastructure, although they aren’t always apparent.  The most obvious way that the environment breaks our infrastructure down is via weather and natural disasters – storms, floods, wildfires, etc. – which can destroy large swathes of infrastructure in a relatively short span of time.  The annual total cost for disaster damage in the US has been rising rapidly and will continue to rise as weather-related disasters become more frequent and severe in the coming decades thanks to climate change.

A more subtle effect of climate change on infrastructure will occur as heat waves and droughts become more frequent and severe over the coming decades, buckling highways and rail lines, creating sinkholes, undermining sewer and water systems, and drying up commercial waterways.  Economic activity in the Midwest, in particular, is heavily dependent on barge traffic along the network of rivers in the Mississippi river basin, and this critical economic artery is especially vulnerable to drought.

We have already had a string of what were supposedly “100-year” and “500-year” droughts and floods in the area, and this will increase as the Arctic ice declines and the circumpolar current weakens, further destabilizing the jet stream.  A drought only slightly longer and more severe than the one in 2012 would create a massive transportation crisis on top of all the other problems.  We are so dependent on this transportation system that a serious shutdown could easily tip the economy into recession without warning.

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