Is Infrastructure Development Slicing and Dicing our Ecosystem?
By admin December 19, 2016

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“Road-building” might sound innocuous, like “house maintenance” – or even positive, conjuring images of promoting the foundation of economic growth. Many of us have been trained to think so.  But an unprecedented spate of road building is happening now, with around 25 million kilometers of new paved roads expected by 2050. And that’s causing many environmental researchers to perceive roads about as positively as a butterfly might see a spider web that’s just fatally trapped it.

A new study, led by Pierre Ibisch at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, located in Germany, ambitiously attempted to map all of the roads and remaining ecosystems across Earth’s entire land surface. Its main conclusion found that roads have sliced and diced Earth’s ecosystems into some 600,000 pieces. More than half of these are less than 1 square kilometer in size. Only 7 per cent of the fragments are more than 100 square kilometers.

Remaining roadless areas across the Earth. P. Ibisch et al. Science (2016)

Roads in fact often generate many problems for the wilderness in the areas where they are built, destroying natural habitat, and promoting illegal deforestation, fires, mining, and hunting. In the Brazilian Amazon, for instance, a research shows that 95 per cent of all forest destruction occurs within 5.5km of roads. The razing of the Amazon and other tropical forests produces more greenhouse gases than all motorized vehicles on Earth.

Animals are being imperiled too, by vehicle roadkill, habitat loss and hunting. In just the past decade, poachers invading the Congo Basin along the expanding network of logging roads have snared or gunned down two-thirds of all forest elephants for their valuable ivory tusks. And the problem seems even worse than it is depicted. Many roads cannot be tracked down, in fact, satellites can be fooled by meteorological conditions and particular solar angles, and sources that rely on human beings are far more active in urban centers than in wilder areas. This results in a massive proliferation of illegal roads, especially in developing nations, which sustain most of the planet’s critical tropical and subtropical forests.

This has been reflected in recent statistics describing how Earth’s wilderness areas have shrunk by a tenth in just the past two decades, according to a recent study reported earlier this year. Lush forests in places like the Amazon, Congo Basin and Borneo are shrinking the fastest, with no end in sight.

The issue is that infrastructure development is both economically necessary and environmentally disastrous . On one hand, nobody disputes that developing nations in particular need more and better roads. That’s the chief reason that around 90 per cent of all new roads are being built in developing countries. On the other hand, much of this ongoing road development is poorly planned and mismanaged, leading to severe environmental damage.

These trade-offs can be avoided with careful planning of road construction. A recent idea is to build a global road-mapping strategy that attempts to tell planners where they should and shouldn’t build roads. The idea is to promote roads where we can most improve food production, while restricting them in places that cause environmental calamities.

But if this trend doesn’t change quickly, and the disordered development of roads continues, this will have devastating consequences for the world around us and for the Sustainable Development Goals the world set-up in 2015. Human beings should not destroy everything they touch, but as they discover new places and build new roads, they need to care also about other beings – or our planet may end up in a dead end.

For more information:

The Global Road-building explosion is shattering nature

Global Land Transport Infrastructure Requirements

As Roads Spread in Rainforests, The Environmental Toll Grows

Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming


Thanks for sharing !

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