by Dish Staff
Of the 15.5 million miles of road estimated to be added to the planet’s surface by the year 2050, 90% will be in developing countries. For a new paper headed by conservation biologist William Laurance, scientists created a Global Road Map to mark “regions that should stay road-free, those where roads would be most useful and those where there is likely to be conflict between the competing interests of human development and protecting nature”:
Laurance and his colleagues argue that roads could have the most benefit when they link agricultural areas to the rest of society, since global food demand is expected to double by the middle of this century. With that in mind, the researchers identified the regions of the world that are most suitable for intensifying agricultural production. These are largely areas that are warm for at least part of the year and have enough rainfall to grow crops. Then the team created a map of regions that would be best to preserve, such as those with high biodiversity, those important for carbon storage and protected areas like national parks. …
The Amazon, Siberia and southwest Africa were among the regions where further road building would be unwise, according to the maps. India, Africa just south of the Sahara, large swaths of land stretching from Eastern Europe west into Russia, and the central United States would be home to prime spots for new roads that would assist agriculture. Central America, Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Turkey and Spain, though, have a lot of area where the nations would have to weigh the needs of their populations with the desire to protect the land. Many of the conflict areas are in poor countries, “and telling those countries not to build roads is hardly going to be popular,” Stephen Perz of the University of Florida, Gainesville, writes in an accompanying commentary. However, “a global road plan is not intended to ‘keep developing countries poor’, but rather to highlight the costs as well as the benefits of building roads,” he argues.
(GIF showing roads and croplands encroaching on the Amazon rainforest in Brazil between 2000 and 2012 via NASA Earth Observatory and Smithsonian.com)