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The Earth Strikes Back Against Transportation

by Joshua Liberles on March 21, 2008

EarthStrikesBack The Earth Strikes Back Against Transportation
It’s been well-documented that transportation, and passenger cars in particular, have done their fair share of damage to the earth and its inhabitants via pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and global warming. Now, as the Transportation Research Board reports, it’s the earth’s turn to fight back against transportation.

Transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the livestock industry’s, are bringing about more extreme weather. In particular, the report identifies “five climate changes of particular importance to U.S. transportation”:

1. increases in very hot days and heat waves
2. increases in Arctic temperatures
3. rising sea levels
4. increases in intense precipitation events
5. increases in hurricane intensity

The U.S. transportation infrastructures were designed for the weather typical at the time they were constructed. As weather worsens, the infrastructures will be pushed beyond their boundaries and the potential for failure increases. North America can expect flooding to overwhelm coastal regions and disrupt roads, runways, and rail traffic; extreme heat to damage roads, bridges, and railroad tracks; and more intense periods of rain and snowfall to overstress inland drainage systems.

"The time has come for transportation professionals to acknowledge and confront the challenges posed by climate change, and to incorporate the most current scientific knowledge into the planning of transportation systems," said Henry Schwartz Jr., chair of the committee that wrote the report.

"Rising temperatures may trigger weather extremes and surprises, such as more rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice than projected," Schwartz said. "The highways that currently serve as evacuation routes and endure periodic flooding could be compromised with strong hurricanes and more intense precipitation, making some of these routes impassable."

It’s not just coastal regions that will experience negative effects. Increased precipitation will lead to severe flooding inland, riverways used for freight shipping will be damaged by both floods and droughts, and heat waves will lead to more wildfires, further damaging transportation.

Unsustainable transportation methods (i.e. driving!) coupled with community planning built around the car is largely responsible for the mess we face. Redesigning large portions of our transportation systems will be extremely expensive, but also represents an opportunity. Rather than building stronger and better highways, driving more, and exacerbating the greenhouse gas problem – perhaps this is our chance to funnel those funds into building better mass transit, decreasing our driving, making a true dent in emissions, and beginning to reverse the trend we’ve begun.

Via Popular Mechanics.

Photo via flickr by florriebassingbourn.

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