President Trump could win big on infrastructure – if he rethinks his stance on climate change

President Trump eliminating some regulations on the mining industry. So, yay. Image: Getty.

Disaster was narrowly averted on 12 February, after America’s tallest dam threatened to release a deluge of water over thousands of homes. Dramatic scenes of water cascading from the Oroville dam emerged after a hole the size of a football field appeared in the spillway floor, allowing water to rip through its foundations and compromise the whole structure. Authorities ordered 180,000 people to evacuate while the water level was lowered to relieve pressure on the damaged spillway. But 48 hours later, the immediate danger had passed and residents were allowed to return home.

This near catastrophe is just the latest symptom of the chronic ill-health of America’s civil infrastructure, which has suffered from decades of under-investment and neglect. But the Oroville dam crisis could provide an unexpected opportunity for the new Trump administration to take on both problems – and win.

Winning is important to the US president, Donald Trump. This is not in dispute. He has built his name, his fame and his entire presidential campaign on being seen to be a winner. In office, he has been quick to reject situations where there is no easy win in sight: from his opposition to the environmental lobby, to his dislike of multilateral trade deals and his “shut up shop” attitude on migration.

But when it comes to infrastructure, the win is clear to see: stuff is broken, stuff can be fixed by good, honest blue-collar workers driving proper US-made machines. These things can be paid for using money – and money is what Trump knows about. New roads, new jobs, a New Deal even – these all look like wins for a relentlessly ambitious president.


What’s the damage?

But renewing the nation’s failing infrastructure is not a simple process, as successive White House administrations have found. Up to $1trn is required to repair or replace ageing dams, bridges, highways and all the other components that support modern civilisation. Where to source the money has been a subject of political wrangling for decades.

Arguments between state and federal administrations, fuelled by political in-fighting and lobbyists – including environmentalists who are opposed to big infrastructure on principle – have all contributed to the stasis. But with a new strategy, Trump might just be able to score a big win where other presidents have lost out.

For water infrastructure, such as Oroville dam, perhaps the most obvious part of the problem is the weather. After five years of extreme drought, this winter has brought record rainfalls. Just prior to the crisis, the Oroville reservoir and others like it were at more than 150 per cent of their normal capacity.

Full to overflowing. Image: Monica M Davey/EPA.

Under these conditions, every storm becomes a challenge for water resource engineers. But what has this got to do with Trump’s infrastructure promise? Year-on-year variations in seasonal weather are highly unpredictable. But in the longer term, atmospheric rivers (a key factor in Californian climate) and similar extreme weather events are robustly predicted to increase in frequency as the global climate warms. The strong balance of scientific evidence and opinion suggests that greenhouse gas emitters worldwide are at least partially responsible: particularly in the US and China, which together generate a third of world emissions

The denier’s dilemma

This presents Trump the climate change denier with a dilemma. To get the win on infrastructure, he needs money. To get the money in a reasonable time frame, he will need corporate investors who are prepared to cut through the political deadlock. But investors require incentives to channel funds into long-term public works, for which Trump will claim the bulk of the credit. And market economics suggests that if there was any money in it for them, this would already be happening.

The Oroville dam, though, demonstrates that some of the largest imminent threats to infrastructure will increase through climate change. If Trump could take an executive decision to shift his position on that – surely not hard for someone who deals so readily in “alternative facts” – then a pathway to the win could open up.

Keen for a win. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Wikimedia commons.

Apportioning blame for carbon emissions could bolster his case for tariffs and other sanctions on Chinese imports. A similar economic stick for domestic polluters would be less palatable, but the money raised could be used to provide corporations with financial incentives to invest in maintaining infrastructure, expanding renewables and adopting green, energy-efficient technology. All these projects promise long-term gains for US businesses and jobs, if only the initial inertia could be overcome. Carbon reduction tariffs, linked specifically to infrastructure renewal incentives, could provide that vital momentum.

Such ideas have been around for decades: environmental thinkers including Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins espouse the notion of “natural capitalism” – a market-driven economics which centres on the value of natural resources. The Oroville dam provides compelling evidence of the hard economic costs of inaction on infrastructure.

Accepting man-made climate change could provide Trump with a chance to deliver on one of his major campaign promises, change the face of capitalism and perhaps even save the world along the way. Doesn’t that look like a win? The Conversation

Jonathan Bridge is a senior lecturer in physical geography at Sheffield Hallam University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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