President Trump embraces upgrading the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, but it’s doubtful he would appreciate, much less contemplate the environmental community’s approach to national rejuvenation.
Infrastructure remediation for Trump is largely restoration of rundown big ticket items such as highways, bridges, and dams. It is a conventional blueprint to resurrect more of the same, which is a deficient strategy in these changing climatic times.
Considering Trump’s denial syndrome, one would not expect him to take climate change into account in infrastructure expansion and repair. Infrastructure that can not only withstand climate change’s harshest effects but mitigates them is unfortunately beyond the president’s current frame of reference. He seems oblivious to the infrastructure qualifications of wetland restoration, open space preservation, and tree plantings. Lost on Trump are their built-in durability and climate change resilience. Moreover, these infrastructures directly or indirectly reduce carbon pollution or ameliorate environmental degradation in some other way.
In the environmentalists’ lexicon, enlisting the natural elements to serve as infrastructure is ideal. Rehabilitation of wetlands as buffers against the more violent vagaries of climate change is a prime example. Another is setting aside an undeveloped flood plain as a catchment basin to absorb the overflow from surrounding communities targeted by ever more intense rain storms. Green infrastructure also includes the planting of trees as windbreaks to protect soil and crops. Instituting tree cover as well provides urban settings with shade that shields pavement from buckling under historic heat waves.
Installation of jetties to defend against coastal erosion and restoration of sand dunes to stave off sea level rise are other cases of natural processes’ inclusion in the infrastructure paradigm.
There are additional non-traditional forms of infrastructure that are particularly suited to modify climate change’s adverse effects. They are thus likely to be ignored by Trump, who rejects human complicity in the recent spate of extreme climate-related weather events.
Highways are conventional infrastructure, and one day so will roadside charging stations every 50 miles to serve electric vehicles in deference to climate change.
Other highway features not normally thought of as infrastructure but utilized in that vein include rerouting and elevating vulnerable roads to lessen climate change’s destructive outbursts.
An addition to infrastructure in the unconventional sense is weatherization of buildings. Climate change resilience is attained through energy efficiency. Structures not only are more resistant to protracted heat waves but release fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Introduction of high speed rail can replace short commuter airline routes of 300 to 500 miles. In doing so, carbon pollution would be reduced through more efficient fuel use and less discharge of pollutants into the atmosphere. All the while, these “bullet” trains would offer comparable service.
Bottom line: contrary to Trump’s builder mentality, infrastructure upgrades should consist of more than pouring cement. Hopefully, Congress will incorporate this expansive philosophy into the final infrastructure package destined for the nation.