When I was growing up in the 1960s, the world was going to end because there were too many people. There wouldn't be enough food to go around and we'd starve to death.
Now the world's going to end because it's too hot. The polar ice caps are melting and those of us living near an ocean will drown.
Whether or not global warming is a manifestation of the planet's natural cycle of heating and cooling over thousands of centuries, or a manmade phenomenon brought on by our relatively recent addiction to fossil fuel, it's difficult to deny that something's going on.
Take, for example, the increase in freezing rain versus snow.
Virtually every attendee I spoke with at the American Public Works Association's “Snow Show” in April said they're dealing with more freezing-rain events than in the past. If you've ever pulled an all-nighter (or several) fighting a snow storm, you know that freezing rain is far more difficult to counteract. Snow can be plowed and hauled away; freezing rain bonds with asphalt and concrete to form a veritable skating rink. Once that happens, it's a whole new ballgame.
Most mainstream media focus on the dire consequences of mankind's overzealous interpretation of the Biblical injunction to have dominion over the Earth. But they rarely point out—probably because they don't understand—the role that infrastructure has played, and continues to play, in conserving natural resources like water (see “Smart water” on page 34 of this issue).
Nor do they talk about how global warming is making the job of managing infrastructure more dynamic. Just as freezing rain is forcing managers and crews to adopt new methods for providing the public with safe roads, there are going to be other unanticipated operational challenges brought on by changes in the planet's overall environment. The typical public works department can't assume that solutions that worked in the past will be just as effective in the future.
The mainstream media also don't point out that we're all in this together from a funding standpoint. Last month we published our first “green issue.” Our cover pictured Earth from outer space and some text—“Running a planet-friendly department in a tightwad world”—designed to highlight the irony of your situation. The average citizen wants the improved quality of life that infrastructure can provide, but balks at tax increases that fund those improvements.
Such is life. It's always easier to envision the worst than champion a solution. Solutions take too long and inconvenience people.
On the other hand, maybe all the hullabaloo will make someone with power realize infrastructure's role vis-à-vis the environment and take up its unglamorous cause. Let's hope so.
In the meantime, all you can do is the best you can do.
Editor in Chief