10 years ago

Infrastructure takes decades to build

An economic boom has careened into bust, halting building projects around the world, even as talk turns to clean energy infrastructure. Overhead, older infrastructure persists in electric wires, highway bridges, and elevated train lines that continue to run on oil and gas.  Above eye level they are seen but not seen in a willing suspension of the critical eye. (more)

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Highways of the world, intact forest and critically degraded habitat

Adapted from INTACT Forest Cover map and World Wildlife Fund Status map


Intact Forest

Critically degraded habitat

Degraded soils

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7.8 billion

2020 Population

415 parts per million

2020 CO2 concentration

14.9° C

2020 Average Temperature

22 cm above level in 1900

2020 Sea Level

6.96 billion

390 ppm




18 Cm

Sea Level

Paris Climate Agreement



Infrastructure takes decades to plan and build, remaining in place often for centuries while conditions change around it.  This timescale requires planners, engineers, and architects to build toward a projected future rather than for present conditions.  At the same time their decisions in part determine the future that will unfold, such that infrastructure embodies a vision of the future lodged significantly in the past. Inside buildings infrastructure emerges in ducts, pipes and wires, which are considered the least durable parts, even though they may remain for decades, usually hidden from view.  When visible, they crowd the ceiling, turning the eye away to the extent that architectural design in general has come to favor the view out, not up.


Decades are the scale of living memory, the span of personal experience. The remembered patterns

and places of childhood are often a anchor of normalcy against which subsequent experience is measured.  The generation now middle aged remembers a time when climate was a stable, cyclic background ever thus, and nature was imagined to be large, unchanging, and unchangeable, absorbing the actions of people without consequence.  That same generation also grew up with machines humming in the background of their lives powered by coal, oil, and gas, which performed labor that was never a part of their experience. For those born since 1980 the labor is still invisible, even more so, but the climate cannot be counted on.  This shift of expectations, grounded in living memory at the scale of decades, changes the emotional baseline.  In memory rivers have always been muddy, therefore soil loss goes unmourned.



Image: Composite of images: Times Square at night, 1911, Library of Congress; Horse Car’s Last days, 1917, The New York Times Photo Archive.

Map: Compilation of regional highway maps

World Wildlife Fund. (2010). "Conservation Status Map." 2019, from http://www.uky.edu/~tmute2/GEI-Web/GEI/GEI10/GEI%202010%20lectures/GEI%20Global%20Conservation/WWF%20conservation%20status_map.jpg.

Greenpeace, University of Maryland and Transparent World. (2006-2017). "Intact Forest Landscapes." 2019, from http://www.intactforests.org/.

Potapov, P., M. Hansen, et al. (2017). "The last frontiers of wilderness: Tracking loss of intact forest landscapes from 2000 to 2013." Science Advances 3  https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/1/e1600821.full

Rekacewicz, P. ( 2008.). Global Soil Degradation. UNEP/GRID-Arendal. International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development. GRIS Arendal, UN Environmental Programme. https://www.grida.no/resources/6338

CO2: NOAA  Earth System Research Laboratory: Global Monitoring Division. (2018). "Recent Monthly Average Mauna Loa CO2." Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network  Retrieved 20 September, 2018 from https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/.

Temperature: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. (2018). "Global Temperature 2017: Monthly Temperature Anomalies."   Retrieved 20 September, 2018, from https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/.

Sea Level: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. (2018). "Sea Level:  Satellite Data: 1993-Present." Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet,  Retrieved 20 September, 2018, from https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/.

Population: Worldometers. (2018). "World Population by Year." Retrieved 20 September, 2018,  from http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/.

Contact:  readg@fiu.edu
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