Infrastructure: The Road to Survival


It’s not sexy. It doesn’t work well on a bumper sticker easily. It doesn’t bring in big donations to charities or get people energized. But infrastructure is the key to our future survival and prosperity. A continually changing climate and environment necessitates advancing infrastructure renewal to keep pace. In Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, a new world is described that is radically different than the one we currently enjoy, and one that we may even begin to experience within our lifetimes. The effects of global warming on this new world, Eaarth, will have serious economic repercussions; for example, Hurricane Katrina caused about $108 billion of damage in the United States. The infrastructure that was in place before the storm was severely insufficient to match the storm, even though predictions had been made before the storm hit in 2005 that the infrastructure needed to be beefed up in case of a direct hit by a hurricane. Had the city’s infrastructure been attended to before the storm, the economic and personal costs to the people of New Orleans would have been far less severe.

A well-maintained infrastructure is pivotal to whether or not we can maintain the lifestyles we have grown accustomed to. If any more delay persists, the global economy will be dangerously unprepared for the looming fate that awaits us just over the horizon. Shocks on the scale of Hurricane Katrina are not going away; they’ll be a fact of life, and we need to be proactive with precautionary measures and fundamental changes to our economic and physical landscape in order to weather the impending storm (pun intended).

However, McKibben is not suggesting just throwing money randomly on infrastructure renewal projects; he implores a smarter, long-term planning perspective that takes into consideration the changes that will happen not only in the next decade or two, but over the next century. Rising sea levels will submerge coastal roads and bridges around the world; rather than repairing those that most likely will be inaccessible in a few years, it’s more effective to repair infrastructure that is out of the danger zone and that will be available for use further into the future. If we’re smart about what and how we overhaul our infrastructure systems, we’ll be far better prepared to withstand what lies ahead.

McKibben said “we’ve got to harden our communities so they can withstand the couple of degrees of global warming that are now inescapable.” Investment in infrastructure is not only to ensure our long-term prosperity, although it is that; it is also to guarantee and protect our ability to adapt and function in the ever-changing world and to survive. Everything is at stake, and it won’t be easy to defend it. But, when you weigh the options, the course of action is clear.

When Self-Interest Trumped Truth: The Politicization of Climate Change

global warming science fiction

John Charles Polanyi, the winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physics, said that “scholarship – if it is to be scholarship – requires that the truth take precedence over all sectarian interests, including self-interest.” Two years after Polanyi received his award, global warming entered into the general lexicon and public discussion after Dr. James Hansen’s testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee declaring that, with 99% certainty, that “the warming trend was not a natural variation but was caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide and other artificial gases in the atmosphere.” Climate science immediately became a “political football”, as fossil fuel and big industry scrambled to scour the truth in order to defend their self-interest. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, in Merchants of Doubt, warned that “small numbers of people can have large, negative impacts, especially if they are organised, determined and have access to power.” And their efforts changed the global warming discussion forever for that very reason.

While a large body of climate scientists genuinely and honestly pursued impartial and unbiased research on global warming, a small critical mass of individuals, known as “merchants of doubt”, published reports to the contrary, saying that there was actually a cooling trend, and that not enough was known about the climate to act one way or the other. Backed by abounding resources from fossil fuel companies, conservative think tanks and media outlets, their efforts turned global warming from being indisputably correct scientifically to a flimsy theory to provoke fear, and even a referendum on American government itself; cap-and-trade measures to tame down carbon emissions, as they argued, were a government intrusion into the market economy, an interference in personal rights, and indicative of the burgeoning size of the government.

What lied beneath the surface of the campaign of doubt and misinformation was the preservation of the bottom line for the fossil fuel industry for another generation, not the pursuit of scientific truth or the common good. In order for any measurable mitigation or adaptation progress to be made, self-interest must be dropped for the prospects of future generations, financial gain for environmental preservation, and negligence for stewardship. Bob Inglis, former Republican Representative from South Carolina, made the following analogy:

“Your child is sick, 98 doctors say treat him this way, two say, ‘No, this other is the way to go.’ I’ll go with the two. You’re taking a big risk with those kids.”

How long are we willing to take such a big risk and pass the buck off to our children and grandchildren? For their sakes and ours, the time for decisive action is now.


Quote by John Charles Polanyi found on

Quote by Dr. James Hansen found in NYT article, “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate”, 24 June 1988.

Definition of “political football” (to cause a political football is to “thrust a social, national security, or otherwise ostensibly non-political matter into partisan politics”) found in Safire’s Political Dictionary.

Quote from Merchants of Doubt found on page 270.

Quote by former Rep. Bob Inglis found on transcript for PBS Frontline’s program titled “Climate of Doubt,” aired 23 October, 2012.


Seeing the Bigger Picture: Harmonizing Weather and Climate Variability

Photo from the New York Times Magazine.

As humans, we have a finite amount of RAM in our brains at our disposal at any given moment to observe and analyze the world around us. It’s difficult for us to take what we see day-to-day and compile it all together to analyze the various trends at play over a longer period of time. We all can easily observe that, recently, there have been a lot of ups-and-downs in the weather that are unusual and uncharacteristic for summers in Central Pennsylvania: the week of July 7th – July 13th saw an average high temperature of about 87⁰F in Carlisle, while the week immediately following it (July 14th – July 20th) was 79⁰F, nearly ten degrees cooler. This sort of drastic change in temperature seems to be becoming the norm more than the exception.

It’s harder for us, however, to place those observations against the perspective of the trends going on at a higher plane, in the climate rather than in the weather. “Rising sea levels, warmer global temperatures, increasing ocean temperatures, and shrinking ice sheets seem like a distant reality, one that surely doesn’t affect me directly.” However, climate and weather are undeniably and inseparably intertwined; a changing climate will have severe repercussions on the weather we experience on the ground in our own lives, from more extreme summers and winters to increased flooding and longer, more frequent droughts around the world, as expressed in The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer R. Weart.
Putting variations in the climate over hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years in harmony with the weather variability we see on a day-to-day basis is a tall order. To do so, a systems-centric perspective is required in order to connect the dots between our personal experiences and what’s working above them, and how long-term changes in the climate trickle down to affect short-term weather patterns. Just as a drop in a body of water ripples throughout the whole body, so does a change in a process within a system affect the system as a whole and how it operates. Our climate is a system of weather patterns, and a change in it will have far-reaching effects on these weather patterns in turn. Our humanness doesn’t make this perspective readily accessible, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely out of reach. It is essential, however, for us to think more holistically towards the relationship between weather and climate variability in order to see the system as a whole, and to fully understand the different mechanisms and processes at work within it.


All weather data from Weather Underground (