In the face of a changing climate and the decline of the diversity of life on Earth, we need to rethink the way we plan and build our infrastructure—the roads that connect us; the energy grids that power our homes and businesses; and all of the other facilities we construct around the world to meet our daily needs.
In the 1800s and 1900s in Europe and the US, plans for building new infrastructure rarely took the full complexities—and benefits—of nature into account. In fact, that approach is still seen in much of the new infrastructure investment today in many countries around the world. Vast swaths of intact natural habitat and the highly valuable resources and services provided by those wild places fell to the wayside in favor of economic gain and development. And that disregard for the environment contributed to the climate crisis we’re now facing.
But with more than 75% of the infrastructure that we’ll need by 2050 still not yet built, we can and must rethink our approach to development—what it looks like, what it’s delivering, and how it’s giving us what we need. So, what should a new, more sustainable and climate-resilient approach look like?
For starters, it’s much easier to design for both people and nature from the beginning rather than to step in later when it’s only possible to make small changes with moderate to little impact. We need to account for the benefits provided by nature across an entire landscape before we spend a single dollar building large infrastructure.