Note — Apr 04, 2021

Apocalyptic Infrastructures

“Apocalyptic” makes this article by Laleh Khalili at Noema magazine sound quite doom and gloom for the future but she’s actually casting an honest look at where we’re at with existing infrastructure, how they were built, why, and who has access. Khalili goes from some crumbling infra, the strain of the climate crisis, some what they make possible when constructed, how they were withheld from some populations, usually destroy some community or ecosystem even when bringing much needed services, and how they can be colonial but also revolutionary.

The last section deals with the dilemma of “how to provide a livable life and livelihood, health, education, basic utilities, clean air and clean water without hitching them to the zero-sum game of growth.” As for most things, a better balance (and future) is a question of looking away from market supremacy, consulting communities, putting people first, and always considering our stewardship of the planet.

For people who live in cities wrapped in smog, near hydraulic infrastructures whose aged concrete is degrading, along roads rumbling with traffic, abutting oil infrastructures heaving soot into the air and under flight paths zigzagged with vapor trails and jet engine fumes, infrastructures can be deadly — all the more so in an age of melting glaciers and permafrost. […]

Across political divides, all infrastructures share one common feature: their detrimental environmental effects. Dams destroy riverine ecosystems and leach the soil. Cement factories and coal-powered electricity spew out pollution across the globe. Sewer lines pour into sensitive riparian and coastal biospheres. Oil fields and pipelines contaminate vast swathes of land, leaking into fragile water tables. Data centers produce carbon dioxide and heat on a monumental scale. […]

Infrastructures that would emerge out of an ideology of degrowth would incorporate a more redistributive, participatory and egalitarian ethos. And a strategy of degrowth would include ecological wellbeing as an immutable principle in all planning and use. […]

For infrastructure to work, for it to serve the public and steward the world’s air, water and soil for future generations, it has to be planned through more open, egalitarian and environmentally militant processes.