Adam Frank: Disruptive Infrastructure


The nation’s vast transportation network is a modern-day wonder built from highways and streets, off-ramps and interchanges, cars, trucks and buses. And the fossil fuel that powers it all represents another modern wonder — a complex network of linked drilling platforms, refineries, pipelines, rail lines and trucking operations.

The scale of it all is staggering. Try, for a moment, to think of all those thousands and thousands of miles of concrete, asphalt, steel piping and iron rebar. Now think about something even more staggering: In 1890 there were no gas stations — the very root of our modern transportation infrastructure. But by 1920, there were gas stations everywhere.

What does that tell you? It means all those highways, refineries and pipelines emerged out of nothing on a scale of decades. When you look at the history, it’s remarkable just how fast we built the fossil fuel-based transportation and energy infrastructure our civilization depends upon.

But what’s even more remarkable is that we have to do it again.

First, we'll add new elements to our existing infrastructure. Next, we'll settle on one or two sustainable transportation options that scale (e.g., electric streetcars, ultra-lite rail). Then we'll slowly replace the old, less used transportation infrastructure (e.g., less roads, parking lots, gas stations).