As the rest of world has been watching the London Olympics this summer and otherwise going about its business, a massive portion of the Earth’s population was plunged into darkness and unable to use air conditioners, computers, fans, hospital equipment, trains, and any other devices or platforms that rely on power. As you probably have heard, India has been hit by a major power outage – the biggest such event ever.
Nearly 10 percent of the world’s population was without power as a result, an eye-popping static. China and India are the world’s two largest countries in terms of population, and, as The Wall Street Journal reported, the India outage impacted a population “larger than the U.S., Brazil and Russia combined.”
The story went on to note that the outage “put on vivid display, for Indians and the world, how rickety the country's basic infrastructure is” and indicated that the outage “could further tarnish the perception of India among foreign companies who have long viewed the country's outdated roads, ports and power networks as major drawbacks of doing business here.”
Indeed, power and infrastructure in general are not only central considerations of businesses as they look to expand, they are also basic tenets of quality of life and, more importantly, safety.
However, at least two of the world’s biggest powers in recent years have not been putting the emphasis on basic infrastructure that they should be, and some of the most significant infrastructure investments on the planet would seem to raise major questions about their impact to the planet.
The U.S. is the other one.
Today is five years to the day that the I-35W bridge in the Twin Cities collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 140 people. This is just one example of why basic infrastructure in the U.S. needs to be more closely monitored for safety and, in some cases, put on the hot list for repair or replacement. This particular Minneapolis bridge, which led to loss of life and got a lot of publicity, has obviously been replaced. But what about the nation’s other aging bridges, particularly those that carry major traffic? And what about nuclear power plants, roads, public buildings, and other key infrastructure that both citizens and businesses rely on?
Of course, China is a major world power, and it’s been investing in infrastructure like crazy. In fact, there was an article circulating just yesterday that noted China’s move to increase its railway investment this year by 16 percent, which would bring that spending this year to $73 billion. But China also has been criticized for railway expansion that puts launch dates before safety.
Another of China’s major infrastructure investments has been the creation of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydropower project. This is another timely topic, given the Chinese in late July launched the last of the generators at the dam, which initially began operation in 2003. A recent article on MailOnline, sister product to The Daily Mail, reported this information, and talked about how the dam was designed to decrease the risk of flooding during peak rainfall season, which the piece said it has been doing successfully so far.
Unfortunately for the Chinese people, however, the Three Gorges Dam effort involved flooding 13 cities, 14 towns and 1,350 villages and displacing more than 1.2 million residents. That’s not to mention the negative environmental impacts of the dam, which submerged hundreds of factories and dumps, and, according to an organization called International Rivers, is turning the water into a reservoir for garbage, industrial waste and silt. But a more earth-shattering concern about Three Gorges Dam is that its sheer weight could, according to some scientists, increase the possibility of earthquakes. In fact, at least one report I have read indicates that the dam project put so much water in one area that it actually altered the axis of the Earth. Yikes!
The bottom line here is that we as a nation, and a world, should continue moving forward with investment in and creation of new and improved infrastructure to power our world, support transportation, and otherwise put in place and support environments that keep the wheels of industry moving. But in defining these projects, haggling over what gets our private and tax dollars, deciding how to balance benefits, costs and profits, we should keep in sight the quality of life, safety and basic humanity of people like you and me.
Edited by Rich Steeves