U.S. Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn loves roads. He sees them as the salvation for many of the world's ills.
If only we had more roads, he argues in a recent essay in National Geographic Online, then rural communities worldwide would be happier, healthier, and wealthier -- and even less likely to be harassed by extremist groups that prey on isolated communities.
In truth, Ambassador Quinn has a point -- but he is only telling half of the story. Roads are often good for people but can also be devastating for the environment. The trick is to decide when roads are environmentally 'good' or 'bad'.
ALERT director Bill Laurance has written an opposing essay in National Geographic Online -- one that tries to bring a bit more balance to the issue of roads. It's worth two minutes to read this rebuttal.
Laurance argues that roads should generally be avoided in wilderness areas, parks and other protected areas, and places with concentrations of endangered or locally endemic species.
Sadly, roads are expanding explosively today, and far too many roads are 'bad' -- opening a Pandora's Box of environmental problems, such as poaching, illegal deforestation and forest burning, illicit gold mining, and predatory land speculation.
We are living in the most dramatic era of road expansion in human history. It is estimated that, by 2050, we will have another 25 million kilometers of roads -- enough to encircle the Earth more than 600 times. Nearly every surviving wilderness area on Earth -- from the Amazon to Siberia, and New Guinea to the Congo Basin -- is under assault from roads.
From an environmental perspective, we are blazing along a road to ruin.
Let's hope that road enthusiasts like Ambassador Quinn start to get the message. Roads are, at best, a double-edged sword.
And far too often, the sharp edge of the sword is pointed at nature's throat.