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Sustainability and Renewal of Civil Infrastructure: An Environmental Perspective

Author: Michael Oppenheimer and Michael Replogle

"In a modern, industrial society, infrastructure provides the main pathway for human interaction with the environment. Infrastructure often constitutes the main interface between human beings and their surroundings, and has in effect become part of the environment. By and large humans spend most of their time in houses, offices, stores, and factories where the air, water, and light are all altered compared their external analogs. Of course, external air and water is already altered by interactions with more remote infrastructure and its byproducts. In some cases, humans and infrastructure appear to have become for all practical purposes extensions of each other, as when two people speak over the telephone or multitudes participate in online conferences.


From an environmental perspective, the signal development of the 20th century has been expansion of the scope of influence of human infrastructure to a global scale. Even at places, such as most of Antarctica, that are unimaginably barren and remote from civilization (with the exception of a few research stations), the air and water (or ice) are measurably altered by effluent of distant infrastructure. While trace amounts of lead from smelting during Roman times can be found in ancient ice buried deep beneath the surface of Greenland, such pollutants were in such small concentration as to be of little consequence to humans outside a radius of tens or at most hundreds of kilometers from their source. In this century, emissions from the various components of infrastructure systems, particularly transportation and electricity generation, are not only transported worldwide by atmospheric and oceanic currents in significant quantity, but they now are capable of determining to an important degree the functioning of nature's own "infrastructure systems", e.g., the global climate and the ozone layer. (IPCC, 1996a; WMO, 1995)"

Date Created: November 1999; Date Posted: April 2006






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