Roads could help rather than harm the environment, say experts

March 20, 2013, University of Cambridge

Two leading ecologists say a rapid proliferation of roads across the planet is causing irreparable damage to nature, but properly planned roads could actually help the environment.

"Loggers, miners and other road builders are putting roads almost everywhere, including places they simply shouldn't go, such as ," said Professor Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge, UK. "Some of these roads are causing ."

"The current situation is largely chaos," said Professor William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia. "Roads are going almost everywhere and often open a Pandora's Box of environmental problems."

"Just look at the ," said Laurance. "Over 95 percent of all and wildfires occur within 10 kilometers of roads, and there's now 100,000 kilometers of roads crisscrossing the Amazon."

But the researchers say it doesn't have to be like this. "Roads are like real estate," said Laurance. "It's 'location, location, location'. In the right places, roads can actually help protect nature."

The secret, say the scientists, is to plan roads carefully, keeping them out of wilderness areas and concentrating them in areas that are best-suited for farming and development.

"In such areas," said Balmford, "roads can improve farming, making it much easier to move crops to market and import fertilizers. This can increase farm profits, improve the livelihoods of rural residents, enhance food security and draw migrants away from vulnerable wilderness areas."

This will be crucial in the future, say the scientists, given that global farming production will need to double in the coming decades to feed up to 10 billion people.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers say a global mapping program is needed, to advise on where to put roads, where to avoid new roads and where to close down existing roads that are causing severe environmental damage.

"It's all about being proactive," said Laurance. "Ultimately, local decision-makers will decide where to put roads. But by working together, development experts, agriculturalists and ecologists could provide badly needed guidelines on where to build good roads rather than bad ."

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1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 20, 2013
"Just look at the Amazon rainforest," said Laurance. "Over 95 percent of all forest destruction and wildfires occur within 10 kilometers of roads, and there's now 100,000 kilometers of roads crisscrossing the Amazon."

Proximity =/= causation.

If I draw 4 lines on a piece of paper and throw 10 darts at it, a few darts will be within an inch of one or more lines.

If I draw 10 lines on a piece of paper, then nearly every dart will be within an inch of one or more lines.

If you made roads every 20km apart, then 100% of all forest fires would be within 10km of a road! It's a meaningless statistic.
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2013
A lot of roads are built and extended because traffic is heavier or expected to be so in the future. Some turn out to be appropriate others not so. But one thing is sure, the environment suffers but other aspects might improve. Where I live now the main single-lane road that connects 3 main cities has suffered many accidents on a certain stretch and is now being turned into dual lanes. Maybe the accidents will decrease but a large number of trees and plants have been chopped down in the process. With the hype to sell more cars etc what else can we expect? We simply cannot have it both ways!
not rated yet Mar 20, 2013
Obviously future roads with self driving cars will be literally covered with forest farms and edible Permaculture gardens. Intersections replaced by over and under passes.

Earth's wildlife and human life will regreen the current fractal networks of paved roads.
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2013
The one thing that will determine the roads of the future is...profit.If there is 'no money in something' it wont get done.
3 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2013
I thik they are comparing apples and oranges, here.

Yes: roads can provide benefits within the closed, artificial, and fully imaginary system of human economics. But in the real world (i.e. with regards to nature) they are destructive.

And when all is said and done: We don't live in an imaginary system but in the real one.

It certainly isn't an 'all roads' or 'no roads' choice. But while we think about optimizing roads we might also think about potential ways of doing away with them alltogether (or at the very least minimizing their use).
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2013
Its like saying since fire is helpful to cook food, a human body wont be susceptible to its burns.

Used in the wrong way, even a helpful thing can be harmful.
1 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2013

Says some bozos living in the U.S. or Europe, where there's a road in a grid for every quarter mile.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2013
I dont live in the US or europe.

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