I was shocked by this ad in the Financial Times last week. Why would anyone publish such a nightmare image – of concreting over the living world – especially when the rest of the media were filled, at the same moment, with images of the planet literally burning?
The ad, it turns out, was to mark the 18 month anniversary of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. That law triggered billions in immediate funding and the launch for 32,000 infrastructure projects across the land: bridges, highways, tunnels, airports, dams. The above “Making America’s Infrastructure Strong”
ad was the cement industry’s way of joining in the celebration.
Brazil, too, unveiled a $76bn public spending spree last week. In fact, Green New Deal, Green Infrastructure, and #BuildBackBetter programmes are being launched across the world.
The problem? Most of these projects that are heavy, expensive and ecologically damaging.
That’s easy to say – I’ve been making that point myself for nigh on 30 years. But in the absence of practical alternatives, simply saying “Stop!” is hopeless advice for the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on hard infra, now.
Alternatives kinds of infrastructure do exist – but they tend not to be investable. Cleaning up a river, or depaving a parking lot, costs far less than building a highway. But a new highway boosts GDP, so that’s where the trillions get spent.
Is a just transition for the hard infra economy feasible? And if so, what would it look like?