By: Nora Germain
When I was a teenager I lived in New York City. I remember the huge frustration I had late at night after going out with friends when the nearest subway station was temporarily out of service. Luckily I could afford a cab instead, or my friends and I would just walk the ten or so blocks to the next station that was open. I wasn’t late to pick up a child from daycare or on my way to the hospital. I was just trying to get home. It was truly a minimal inconvenience to me, but I remember how tired and irritable I would get at the slightest upset on the subway. Now imagine the entire thing is underwater and closed to service, and you’ll start to grasp what is going on with critical infrastructure all over the world.
There is a lot of civilization-dependent infrastructure that needs to be moved, secured, weatherized and/ or updated if us humans want to stand a chance against a century or more of battery from climate change. The trains and subways are an obvious place to start, as we have seen huge flooding not only in subway systems in New York, themselves already in disrepair, but also in China where several passengers actually drowned inside the subway this year. How can we hope to keep water out of these critical systems? Perhaps there need to be more drains, or sea walls around the entrances, to help slow the flow of water on days when the cities flood.
It’s also important to take into account the human trauma and psychological damage that these recurring disasters impose. People are not meant to live under such high levels of chronic stress, especially during their basic commute to work. Basic services are now being regularly disrupted and that can make people feel that they’re able to depend on less and less in their lives. When we hear of people dying in a subway car, or when the train gets repeatedly shut down, or when people get stuck inside a station, what kind of consequence does that have on a society as a whole? How can we cope with such awful crises happening over and over again, knowing they will likely continue for years, and what could help ease this deep feeling of relative insecurity?
Another form of infrastructure that desperately needs help is our power grids. We saw from the awful storm in Texas in early 2021 that our grids are not prepared for climate anomalies. Many people died frozen in their homes, unable to get heat because of a total failure of the power grid. Experts say that these vulnerabilities are still not repaired and that a deadly incident like that could happen again. The energy grid is also extremely vulnerable to failure after hurricanes and other tropical storms, as we have seen repeatedly in New Orleans and many other places around the world.
Without power, not only do people have to go without things like lights and communications with the outside world — but in sweltering heat, they also do not have air conditioning and cannot keep food from spoiling. Power grid vulnerability therefore becomes a causal factor of starvation and death from heat. How can we ensure that the power grids around the world can withstand not just one bad hurricane, but multiple repeated hurricanes year after year, and potentially, multiple storms in one year? Blockchain offers a possible decentralized solution, which could help relocate and store power more efficiently and help to democratize control over the grid itself, limiting corruption, greed and negligence. Many companies are already working toward these solutions, especially in solar. The Biden Administration is working hard on an infrastructure mobilization to help restore bridges, pipes and more — but some fear that climate is not focused on enough in these plans. Many of these upgrades can take years to complete, but the repeated destruction of climate is already here. Time is of the essence, to put it mildly.
Another crucial piece of societal stability is internet infrastructure. Our lives have become totally reliant upon the internet, the cloud, our phones and the apps on them. We can’t access our health records or bank statements without Wi-Fi, and yet in some places, flooding and sea level rise put internet infrastructure at risk of being destroyed or severely damaged. Once this happens it’s much more difficult to fix than preventing it, and that’s why investments in moving, securing, waterproofing or weatherizing our internet infrastructure are urgently needed. We should not take the internet for granted or wait for it to fail to take action.
Crypto was partly invented so that people would be able to control money outside of traditional government regulation and outside of banks. But how can crypto survive if the internet is at risk? Cyberspace, the internet, social media and so forth are often seen as escapes from daily life, a place where people can go to connect, or to become anonymous, or a place to have fun gaming or watching shows. It’s true that the internet offers all these comforts, and so many conveniences as well — but what we might forget is that the internet itself exists on planet Earth, and thus, it must be maintained and protected in order to continue functioning. It will not just look after itself, as it is dependent upon the environment of the real world to work.
The next area of infrastructure that needs protecting is nature itself. Nature provides us trillions of dollars of natural comforts, covering and safeguarding that is quickly being eroded by human greed and stupidity. For example, coastal coral reefs and mangroves limit the destructive power of hurricanes and tsunamis. Stable lands provide the foundations for our roads. The forests provide us with clean air, medicines, and food. Healthy soil grows edible crops, and stores carbon. It goes on and on.
Our complex and infinitely intelligent natural world provides incredibly specific but also resilient and automatic forms of protection from the elements. This protection is not something that humans can provide to ourselves through technology or innovation alone. Nature got a several billion year start and therefore, should be listened to and expanded. We cannot hope to survive a century of severe floods, hurricanes, fires and droughts without our nature defense systems in place. Eroding them further would be suicide. Earth intelligence created the carbon cycle, the water cycle, photosynthesis and all the incredible natural miracles that human beings depend on to live.
So aside from and alongside public transportation, the energy grid and the internet, nature is our most valuable type of infrastructure. Without it, we cannot hope to survive this century of climate chaos. Already in 2021 we are seeing disasters come with unprecedented frequency and strength. What will 2031 or 2041 be like? What about 2071? The Guardian published a piece recently that explains up to half of the world’s tree species could be at risk for extinction. We need to strengthen and expand these natural environments, and help them — help us. If we do that all around the world, and secure our human made infrastructure systems, it’s possible that we may find our way through these challenging decades.
Finally, it’s also a great idea to prepare your own personal infrastructure. Where will you go if you need to evacuate immediately? How will you pay for it and who can you trust in a life threatening situation? What about your finances? Are you secure, do you have copies of important documents and do you have a will or life insurance in place? These are all things that we have control over before disaster strikes. Knowledge is power, and every piece of information counts. Hang on and prepare for a turbulent road ahead.