The Roads Not Taken

The other day, my husband shared a great cartoon with me: a lecturer was standing by a whiteboard containing a list of actions to combat climate change, most of which would also result in cleaner air and water. A man at the back of the lecture hall is asking “But what if we make the world better and it turns out the scientists were wrong?”

It is difficult to understand opposition to efforts to ameliorate climate change, since most of the measures being proposed are things we ought to be doing anyway. (I do understand why people who make their living from fossil fuels pooh-pooh climate change, and “explain away” the unusual number of unusually destructive hurricanes, not to mention the droughts,  the fact that it’s the end of October and in Indiana the trees have barely begun to change color…)

The problem with taking a head in the sand approach–or just making outright war on all environmental protection measures, a la Scott Pruitt–is that it is getting costly. Ignore, if you will, predictions of future crop failures and massive numbers of refugees from no-longer-habitable regions. Let’s just look at current costs and those we can predict with confidence.

Thanks to the unprecedented number and severity of hurricanes, FEMA has already had to ask Congress for billions of extra dollars. To the extent the fires in California were connected to that state’s long drought, we can add the costs of that disaster. Those disasters, however, are small potatoes next to the extra costs incurred on otherwise run-of-the-mill projects as a result of climate change.

Take road construction.

When engineers build roads, they use weather models to decide what kind of pavement can withstand the local climate. Currently, many American engineers use temperature data from 1964 to 1995 to select materials. But the climate is changing.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change asserts that newer temperature figures are needed to save billions of dollars in unnecessary repairs. Using data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Shane Underwood of Arizona State University and his colleagues show that road engineers have selected materials inappropriate for current temperatures 35 percent of the time over the past two decades.

The researchers concluded that a failure to adapt the engineering to warmer temperatures is adding 3 to 9 percent to the cost of building and maintaining a road over 30 years. Those are tax dollars being wasted at a time American infrastructure is desperately in need of repair and rebuilding.

The research analyzed two potential scenarios, one in which global temperatures rose less than current estimates, and one that reflected current predictions. Their results suggest that somewhere between $13.6 and $35.8 billion in extra or earlier-than-normal repairs will be required for roads now being built if the current predictions are accurate. In the lower-temperature warming model, they calculate annual extra costs of between $0.8 billion and $1.3 billion; in the higher-temperature warming model, they predict annual extra costs between $0.8 billion and $2.1 billion.

Other findings included:

  • A road built to last 20 years will require repairs after 14 to 17 years under these models.
  • In some cases, government transportation agencies are paying too much for materials to withstand cold temperatures that do not currently (and perhaps no longer) exist.
  • Because municipal governments in the United States work on tighter road-maintenance budgets than state and federal transportation departments, the extra financial strain will largely impact cities and towns.

There are undoubtedly other expenses that will be generated by our changing climate–some that we can anticipate, and others that will come as unwelcome surprises. Scientists in a number of fields are investigating likely consequences–everything from the loss of hundreds of insect and animal species to the negative effect on coffee beans.

There will be significant and unpleasant costs to taking the road marked “Science Denial.” Unfortunately, these days–at least, in the United States– that road isn’t the “one less traveled.”


  1. And then, because road costs are inexplicably rising, we will have to “privatize”* the road system by turning everything possible into a toll road or bridge, which will be operated by the same private industry that is paying for the studies that say there is no such thing as climate change. The system is working.

    *Privatize – turn taxpayer funded infrastructure into a private profit center, with a guarantee that all losses will be covered by government money.

  2. i hear the old saying,those trucks are distroying our roads,not so, its the goverments inability to provide a adiquate roadway,your right,whereas i see blacktop on a desert highway,it makes a
    heavy truck have to increase its load on the drivetrain to push that truck down that soft pavement. thare are polymers to harden it,and they do work,to a extent. concrete,is hard,and can be made very durable with,,,,,coal ash. yea,that stuff left over after a power plant burns the
    coal, many bridges have this,its a binder,and it works, so theres a way to use a leftover. im not
    fighting climate change here,im in the road const industry,i drive a truck for diffrent paving companies in season. the fact here,few seem to realize, when we go to electric cars, the power companies,and grids are in dire need of updates. though we all like to see renewables, its natural gas that will change the burning of fossil for power. i prefer nukes,and the reminates can be handled,and little to no emisions. next,if you want renewables,you have to have a generator to, cycle the power, in the u.s. its 120 volts,60 cycles,which is the speed of a turning armature of the generator,X power 60 from 1800 rpms or 3600 rpms depending on the set of the genetator, wind,solar do not have this capacity cycle so, you have to provide thru
    the generator.either way, your still burnig something to get the power. maybe if we made a effort to move natural gas,we would at least start some of the real move to clean up. im sure the effect of rain forest removal is also a big piece of this missed in conversation, weather movements off the equator have been diffrent since this mass removal.

  3. Those making their living from fossil fuels can pooh-pooh climate change and global warming till doomsday and that attitude will only lead to their continuing to making money. Their only reason for refusing to see beyond their profits by maintaining their status quo will not end Climate Change or Global Warming. They are in business to make profits, not to protect the environment or provide safe air for humans or other living animals to breathe.

    The damage to the environment from those California wildfires and the unnatural intensity of the recent hurricanes or the earthquakes, moves far beyond the general area where they originally caused damage. We have not yet recovered completely from Katrina, the levee collapses or Andrew’s damage. I have never seen or read anyone mentioning the current and ongoing damage done to the Sea of Japan by those nuclear missiles North Korea is determined to continue using. Our oceans and the air are sources of life for all of us; the continuing and spreading nuclear damage from the Fukashima earthquake and tsunami seem to be considered a “thing of the past” and no cause for concern.

    The streets in my small neighborhood with only one way in or out, have ruts, cracks, incorrect grading causing problems after rains, there are weeds and grass growing in streets and along curbs which further weakens and damages streets. Major roads and bridges are only part of the problem; a major part to be sure, but all street deterioration must be taken into consideration. Add to those increasing repair costs the damage to vehicles traveling on deteriorating roads, streets and bridges leading to more income for other private businesses.

    It is always follow the money and protecting the environment is a costly endeavor because protective/preventive measures are still being ignored.

  4. Those who deny that climate change is occurring, and those who are just oblivious to anything out of the ordinary do not care about their grandchildren.

  5. Yes, it’s true that the climate is changing for the warmer. But climate is a measurement of weather over a long period of time. The climate changes now occurring will continue, but there will be short periods when things seem “normal” to the deniers and anti-science ostriches. Those periods of “normalcy” will continue to set us back on that road to doing the right things.

    Speaking of costs: What’s it going to cost to relocate, eventually, 60% of the human populations away from coastal regions that will flood from sea level rises? There are almost 8 BILLION humans on a planet that should only be able to support half that number. We will end up creating enough un-inhabital surface area to bring that number in line with the Earth’s capacity to support life.

    Nobody talks about population control, but that is, to many scientists, the underlying cause of most of our problems.

  6. There is another side to this coin.

    Just as there is a cost to climate change, particularly if we deny it is happening and ignore the changes; there is an up side to climate change that needs to be recognized too. The extension of growing seasons allows for double cropping and the addition of new types of crops that can be grown in any one area is a boon. Construction of all kinds can now be done nearly year around. Both of these endeavors under climate change add to the economy.

    It will take BALANCED thinking and planning to deal with all of the aspects of the changes we are now experiencing. Unfortunately, BALANCE is one thing in very short supply these days.

  7. As long as it costs money to fix it, no Republican will be allowed to vote for anything even remotely related to climate change. Meanwhile, I’ll sit in my home that is 16 feet above sea level and wait for it to become beachfront property.

  8. I advise my children and theirs to invest in raw land in the Colorado Rockies high above the waterline. They can not only make a bundle as people retreat away from the seashores; they can also fish in neighboring Lake Kansas. Our undergirding problem is greed for profit; all other rational responses to reality must grovel at the throne of money. There is no future, only now. Our problem is between our collective ears and how we ethically respond to changes in our environment, our economy and even our folkways and mores, and we are doing a poor job of it. What to do? Elect people whose reason for being is service to their fellow citizens and work hard to literally change our focus to service from profit. Can’t be done? What are our alternatives?

  9. “…the negative effect on coffee beans.” !!!! Yikes!

    Is there a lesson there in that one phrase–the one that gave my spine such a rattle and really sold human-caused global warming to me? Maybe, all we have to do in order to reach and convince the deniers is find and brandish phrases like that. Find the irreplaceable little pleasures that climate deniers MUST HAVE and, well, scare the denier out of them.

    The negative effect on yachts?!!! They develop an odor? Mold grows uncontrollably? Oh, my God!

    Caviar! Caviar! It turns sour and rots your dental caps…Oh, no!

    Mistresses find a new respect for monogamy! Where’s the justice in that? Has mother nature lost her mind? What else can possibly go wrong?

    What???? Congressmen lose their what?? Lose their GREED!! Their conscience kicks in!!!?? Oh! Oh! Oh! I’m having chest pains. It’s the big one; somebody call 911.

    But, folks, speaking of big ones, don’t forget the really, really big one: Most scientists develop an allergy to air-conditioning and cannot think rationally in the heat, and the rest go on strike. No more brand new gadgets, materials, pills, or new elements, which means no more opportunities for capitalist bullies to turn billions into trillions.

    Suddenly, there is a new respect for science and facts. Alternate science and alternate facts become as undesirable to chum around with as…well, as poor people.

  10. Last night I watched a program on PBS – Nova- Killer Volcanoes. From the Program’s Web Site: >
    Follow a team of volcano sleuths as they embark on a worldwide hunt for an elusive volcanic mega-eruption that plunged medieval Earth into a deep freeze.

    The mystery begins when archaeologists find a hastily dug mass grave of 4,000 men, women, and children in London. At first they assume it’s a plague pit from the Black Death, but when they date the bones, they turn out to be too old by a century (13th century).

    So what killed off these families? The chronicles of that time describe a run of wild weather that devastated crops and spread famine across Europe. NOVA’s expert team looks for the signature of a volcanic eruption big enough to have blasted a huge cloud of ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere, which chilled the entire planet.

    From Greenland to Antarctica, the team finds telltale “fingerprints” in ice and soil layers until, finally, they narrow down the culprit to a smoldering crater on a remote Indonesian island. Nearly 750 years ago, this volcano’s colossal explosion shot a million tons of rock and ash every second into the atmosphere. Across the globe, it turned summer into winter.
    This was science at it’s finest, science asking why??? Evidence in ice cores from the Greenland to the Antarctic was gathered, the chemical composition, radiocarbon dating analysis was determined from samples. Scientists from all over the globe contributed using their expertise. Finally, the culprit volcano was determined.

    This type of science seems doomed. The bible thumping Pence types would just leave it as God’s Will and ask no further questions. All this science and detective work leads into the dangerous ground of intellectual, critical thinking.

  11. Motonous – We have left it to God’s will and you are right in inferring that it isn’t working. Pastor Pence is thus participating in the ultimate of laissez faire thought (if thought is involved), but such thinking is not about economics or gerrymandering; it rather involves human survival, and thought it would take longer, poses just as much a threat to our survival as atomic bombs, which I presume means that North Korea’s fissionable politics should be left to God. per Pence. Uh. . . .

  12. A few decades ago, Indianapolis had an unbelievable number of alleys with an unbelievable number of potholes. That’s no longer true. The developers discovered a cure. They stopped building alleys.

    Now there’s something else we need to stop doing. Keep all the heavy trucks off of good streets. The trucks seem to be everywhere. And so are the potholes.

  13. Worth repeating – –

    “This type of science seems doomed. The bible thumping Pence types would just leave it as God’s Will and ask no further questions. All this science and detective work leads into the dangerous ground of intellectual, critical thinking.”

    But intellectual, critical thinking is essential for humanity; without it we become slaves.

  14. It’s too late to change our ways wrt climate change. Our negative influence of the elements have won. Besides,commerce always wins. Commerce is always invariably considered more important than human life or the quality of life. I would bet most folks here on this blog drive their automobiles often as the lone individual within that vehicle. I would bet most continue to fly as well. If you’re in Indianapolis,you’re using coal fired electricity to peruse this blog. The only thing that may happen (as far as legislation wrt climate change) is the wealthy real estate developers will receive a bailout if their investments along the coasts are threatened by an abraded shoreline.

    Again,as always,the corporate suits won……Because markets.

  15. The effects are all around the world. Deniers put their arm out of the back door and decide that they know more about climate than scientists. Permafrost is melting in the Arctic. A generation of Adele penguin chicks died of starvation because parent birds could not reach the rookeries in time to feed them. Greenland glaciers are melting at a ever increasing rate. Islands in the Pacific are becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels. Whole forests of trees are dying from temperature changes. Insect populations (critical to food production) are declining rapidly.
    What, me worry? Nah!

  16. That’s the thing Marv, we have to start spotlighting human deaths and suffering for the pastor pences in this world to take notice. It seems that as long as it doesn’t affect them, there is no problem…until it affects them. And yes William, many of us drive alone in our vehicles because we have no other choice. I hate to inform you but the public transportation in this country is just not something that is available everywhere. I used the public transportation in Europe often, except for grocery runs. I much rather have someone else do the driving but I live exactly 5 miles from the nearest bus stop and yet, I have grocery stores within walking distance. But since you don’t live in Tucson, you have no idea that we have had record breaking heat lately. Not a degree or two higher but 10-15 degrees higher in October!!! Until these climate deniers have their house burn to the ground, or flooded by mother nature, there is no problem. We just get screwed or killed or have insurance companies deny our claims.

  17. AgingLGrl; so much going on and going wrong at this time, we tend to forget those lives which were in the headlines when their suffering was considered news. There are still those on the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast as well as Puerto Rico who continue to suffer but don’t appear to be worth headlines any longer. Tonight, the Lifetime Channel is premiering a made-for-TV move, “Flint”, which I’m certain will be worth our time watching. It is the story of the three women in Flint, Michigan, who uncovered the source of lead tainted water provided by their local utility, contamination the Flint authorities were aware of. Those victims are still suffering serious health problems and probably still fighting the “system” for recompense. Like the “cancer cluster” in Johnson County, Indiana, which pops up occasionally, problems in Flint, Michigan, are ongoing and still newsworthy.

  18. AgingLgirl,therein lies the problem. We can cast stones upon the deniers until eternity,to what end?

    Your example perfectly describes how our lifestyle(s) will preclude us from acting upon the causes for climate change. Also,commerce always wins,especially in America. To act upon the causes/sources for climate change would be burdensome to business. And in America,the businessman is king. To act upon climate change is a lost cause. No one is willing to change their lifestyle to further the much needed change. If you can’t or are unwilling to sacrifice, how do you expect the public at large to change as well? Hmmmm. But,it does keep the plebes arguing about things that will never change..Meanwhile,the political class just merely laughs at the arguing between factions.

  19. William; we are acting on Global Warming which effects Climate Change. We cannot ACT ON Climate Change as it is nature; the terms are NOT interchangeable.

  20. AgingLGrl,

    “That’s the thing Marv, we have to start spotlighting human deaths and suffering for the pastor pences in this world to take notice. It seems that as long as it doesn’t affect them, there is no problem…until it affects them.”

    U R 110% Right. Unfortunately, that’s probably the only answer we’re left with. But at least, we still have a possible answer today: Saturday, October 28, 2017.

    “So drink a highball at nightfall, for tomorrow might bring sorrow.” That’s part of a song, always sung by the student body at the end of third quarter of football games at the University of Pennsylvania where both our President and I received our B.S. degrees in Economics.

    Lately, on TV, the President uses his degree from Penn as proof of his intelligence. I haven’t seen a copy of an I.Q Test, all I know is he didn’t have enough INTELLIGENCE to be accepted as a Freshman. Does he have another answer? Would he have the gall to blame it on financial hardship? My answer would be yes. He needs to stay consistent with his reputation as far as INTEGRITY is concerned. He might lose all his constituency if he was found to be an honest man.

  21. William, so much anger in your words. Take Marv’s Advice and have a drink cuz tomorrow may be worse.
    I do as much as I can, as often as I can, under extreme circumstances which you will never know. Since I live alone these days, my options are limited and I just turned 58 this week And these old bones aren’t what they used to be. Have a great weekend.

  22. Marv: POTUS is an idiot because he’s suffering from something only his family knows about. We can only wait and find out when they spill it. Heaven help America.

  23. JoAnn,

    You wrote: “William; we are acting on Global Warming which effects Climate Change. We cannot ACT ON Climate Change as it is nature; the terms are NOT interchangeable.”

    Actually, William is correct when referencing ‘Climate Change’. The correct terminology is no longer ‘Global Warming’, but rather in current jargon is ‘Climate Change’ as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

  24. Per Science Observatory:
    “What is Global Warming?
    Global warming is the unusually rapid increase in Earth’s average surface temperature over the past century primarily due to the greenhouse gases released as people burn fossil fuels. The global average surface temperature rose 0.6 to 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.1 to 1.6° F) between 1906 and 2005, and the rate of temperature increase has nearly doubled in the last 50 years. Temperatures are certain to go up further.”

    “Paris Agreement central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels…”

    The rate of temperature increase due to the burning of fossil fuels during the industrial age and continuing today; it is referred to as “Global Warming” and has caused the temperature increase to the dangerous level we are dealing with today referred to in the Paris Agreement. It has also been referred to the “Greenhouse Effect” and “we are destroying the environment”; it is simply semantics…rather than using the lengthy terminology of our hazardous actions as referred to by Science Observatory and/or the Paris Agreement. The latter could not be comprehended by Donald Trump so he decided to opt out for us…or has he opted back in to parts of it or “walked back” his original statement?

    We can (but don’t) control Global Warming which in turn can/will effect Climate Change; we can never control the natural act of Climate Change.

  25. My former boss is a dumb ass! We were in grad school together and both earned doctorates in biochemistry. I was in academia for a few years before joining industry for my career; he went into industry directly and rose to the position of president at a biotechnology company. I had worked for a couple of different companies when he recruited me to be his VP of R&D. Now we both are just shy of 80 and retired yet we still have lunch together almost every week.

    When the topic of global climate change comes up, he denies that is happening based on his political party affiliation. Then I explain what a terrible scientist he has become, knowing he is capable of using the scientific method and was able to read, comprehend and analyse the scientific literature. Nonetheless he unable to remove the political blinders he wears regarding climate change so I have had to tell him on several occasions that he is a dumb ass.

Comments are closed.