Grey nomad lifestyle provides a model for living remotely


File 20181206 128217 1t2yfpk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Grey nomads are champions of a radical type of portable urbanism as they travel to far-flung places like Lake Ballard in Western Australia.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia, Author provided

Timothy Moore, Monash University

Every other year, retired couple Jorg and Jan journey some 5,000 kilometres in their campervan from Port Fairy in southeastern Australia to Broome in the far northwest for a change of lifestyle and scenery. There they catch up with other couples from across the nation, who often converge on the beach for communal dinners. Jorg and Jan’s break lasts several weeks.

They are two of tens of thousands of retired adults travelling independently across the continent at any given time in search of adventure, warmer weather and camaraderie after a lifetime of hard work. These part-time nomadic adventurers, or grey nomads, have recast the image of Australia’s ageing population. Rather than being inert and conservative, or in need of care, these older Australians are champions of a radical type of urbanism: dwellings are mobile, infrastructure is portable or pluggable, social networks are sprawled, and adherents are on the move daily or weekly.




Read more:
Grey dawn or the twilight years? Let’s talk about growing old


Nomads driving along Meelup Beach Road near Dunsborough.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia

Grey nomad is a term used to describe Australians over 55 years old who travel for an extended time – from weeks to months – and cover more than 300 kilometres in a day across semi-arid and coastal Australia. The term was popularised following the 1997 Australian documentary Grey Nomads, which captured the phenomenon of older travellers who made their homes wherever they parked.

What is the scale of grey nomadism?

Travellers, including grey nomads, contribute to a “roaming economy”: decentralised dwelling results in decentralised spending. The Western Australian government estimated in its Caravan and Camping Visitor Snapshot 2016 report that 1.54 million domestic visitors spent time in caravans or camping, contributing more than A$1 billion to the state economy.

According to the Campervan & Motorhome Club of Australia, RV drivers spend an average of $770 per week. And their value to a remote place extends beyond economic capital to human capital. Grey nomads often provide labour (such as gardening, house-sitting or their pre-retirement professional skills) in exchange for a place to park or for extra income.

Nomads relax at a caravan site in Esperance.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western
Australia

The availability of caravan parks, campsites and public parking reserves is essential to attract the grey nomad to regional towns. According to a 2012 report for Tourism WA, A Strategic Approach to Caravan & Camping Tourism in Western Australia, the state had a total of 37,369 campsites at 769 locations. In addition, remote private properties are becoming available through apps such as WikiCamps Australia.




Read more:
Grey nomads drive caravan boom but camp spots decline


But while many nomads go off-grid, carrying their solar panels and generators, others are just looking for free reserves to park in. Beyond the site and its amenities – such as power, water, showers or flushing toilets – qualities such as “authenticity” are important to nomads, as highlighted by Mandy Pickering. Sites should feel remote rather than urban.

Will future generations be as fortunate?

The rise of the grey nomad over the past half-century has been made possible through the ability of ageing Australians to fund this retirement lifestyle. They might sell their houses (some may simply benefit from having secure accommodation), withdraw their superannuation or receive government benefits. Nomadism is a reward after a lifetime entangled in an economic and social system that keeps the individual tied to a stable workplace and place to live.

Aerial view of Osprey Campground near Ningaloo Reef.
Image courtesy of Tourism Western Australia

For future generations, the outlook in terms of grey nomadism being a viable retirement lifestyle is not especially bright. Home ownership is sliding out of reach for many younger people. And many are enmeshed in the gig economy, meaning they are not receiving employer superannuation contributions.




Read more:
Renters Beware: how the pension and super could leave you behind


Future generations may be so much in debt or living in such straitened circumstances that they cannot retire to a life of leisurely travel.

While grey nomadism might not be a sustainable model in the future, the lifestyle demonstrates how future generations of nomads – not necessarily grey – can live cheaply while populating regional centres for weeks or months, bringing economic and human capital to these remote places. These nomads will be able to work on their laptops in the public libraries, cafes, share houses and co-working spaces of country towns, accessing work remotely through cloud-based telecommunications.

They might not come in campervans but be dropped off in driverless vehicles; vacant campsites might become sites for small cabins. Or, as these nomads will be looking for temporary accommodation, spare rooms or entire houses might be made available. To find these dwellings, they might use apps that bring great efficiency to managing housing occupancy, enabling the “sharing” (renting) of unoccupied space for days, weeks or months.

Are regional towns ready to embrace these “emerging nomads” who are attracted by affordable living costs, network coverage, fast internet speeds, great weather, temporary housing options and unique regional identities, as the grey nomads were before them?

Grey nomads are recognised as a group that requires distributed infrastructures. They demonstrate a capacity for domesticity and urbanity without boundaries. The grey nomads are the precursor to a new generation that might not only want to travel, but need to in an economic environment that is not static or stable. And that will mean they can no longer afford to stay in one place.


This article was co-authored by Amelia Borg, a director of Sibling Architecture and a Masters of Business student at the University of Melbourne.

The Conversation is co-publishing articles with Future West (Australian Urbanism), produced by the University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts. These articles look towards the future of urbanism, taking Perth and Western Australia as its reference point, with the latest series focusing on the regions. You can read other articles here.




Read more:
Off the plan: shelter, the future and the problems in between


The Conversation


Timothy Moore, PhD Candidate, Melbourne School of Design, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why our carbon emission policies don’t work on air travel



File 20180703 116129 1xj9a0q.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Gillard government’s carbon price had no effect on the aviation industry.
Shutterstock

Francis Markham, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Western Sydney University; James Higham, and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The federal government’s National Energy Guarantee aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity industry by 26% of 2005 levels. But for Australia to meet its Paris climate change commitments, this 26% reduction will need to be replicated economy-wide.

In sectors such as aviation this is going to be very costly, if not impossible. Our modelling of the carbon price introduced by the Gillard government shows it had no detectable effect on kilometres flown and hence carbon emitted, despite being levied at A$23-$24 per tonne.

If Australia is to meet its Paris climate commitments, the National Energy Guarantee target will need to be raised or radical measures will be required, such as putting a hard cap on emissions in sectors such as aviation.




Read more:
Obituary: Australia’s carbon price


Our analysis of domestic aviation found no correlation between the Gillard government’s carbon price and domestic air travel, even when adjusting statistically for other factors that influence the amount Australians fly.

This is despite the carbon price being very effective at reducing emissions in the energy sector.

To reduce aviation emissions, a carbon price must either make flying less carbon intensive, or make people fly less.

In theory, a carbon tax should improve carbon efficiency by increasing the costs of polluting technologies and systems, relative to less polluting alternatives. If this is not possible, a carbon price might reduce emissions by making air travel more expensive, thereby encouraging people to either travel less or use alternative modes of transport.

Why the carbon price failed to reduce domestic aviation

The cost of air travel has fallen dramatically over the last 25 years. As the chart below shows, economy air fares in Australia in 2018 are just 55% of the average cost in 1992 (after adjusting for inflation).

Given this dramatic reduction in fares, many consumers would not have noticed a small increase in prices due to the carbon tax. Qantas, for example, increased domestic fares by between A$1.82 and A$6.86.

The carbon price may have just been too small to reduce consumer demand – even when passed on to consumers in full.

Consumer demand may have actually been increased by the Clean Energy Future policy, which included household compensation.




Read more:
Carbon pricing is still the best way to cut emissions, if we get it right


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/CJiPw/2/

The cost of jet fuel, which accounts for between 30 and 40% of total airline expenses, has fluctuated dramatically over the last decade.

As the chart below shows, oil were around USD$80-$100 per barrel during the period of the carbon price, but had fallen to around USD$50 per barrel just a year later.

Airlines manage these large fluctuations by absorbing the cost or passing them on through levies. Fare segmentation and dynamic pricing also make ticket prices difficult to predict and understand.

Compared to the volatility in the cost of fuel, the carbon price was negligible.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/QssWQ/1/

The carbon price was also unlikely to have been fully passed through to consumers as Virgin and Qantas were engaged in heavy competition at the time, also known as the “capacity wars”.

This saw airlines running flights at well below profitable passenger loads in order to gain market share. It also meant the airlines stopped passing on the carbon price to customers.




Read more:
The Paris climate agreement needs coordinated carbon prices to be successful


A carbon price could incentivise airlines to reduce emissions by improving their management systems or changing plane technology. But such an incentive already existed in 2012-2014, in the form of high fuel prices.

A carbon price would only provide an additional incentive over and above high fuel prices if there is an alternative, non-taxed form of energy to switch to. This is the case for electricity generators, who can switch to solar or wind power.

But more efficient aeroplane materials, engines and biofuels are more myth than reality.

What would meeting Australia’s Paris commitment require?

Given the failure of the carbon price to reduce domestic air travel, there are two possibilities to reduce aviation emissions by 26% on 2005 levels.

The first is to insist on reducing emissions across all industry sectors. In the case of aviation, the modest A$23-$24 per tonne carbon price did not work.

Hard caps on emissions will be needed. Given the difficulty of technological change, this will require that people fly less.

The second option is to put off reducing aviation emissions and take advantage of more viable sources of emissions reduction elsewhere.

By increasing the National Energy Guarantee target to well above 26%, the emission reductions in the energy sector could offset a lack of progress in aviation. This is the most economically efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions, but does little to reduce carbon pollution from aviation specifically.

The ConversationAirline emissions are likely to remain a difficult problem, but one that needs to be tackled if we’re to stay within habitable climate limits.

Francis Markham, Research Fellow, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University; Arianne C. Reis, Senior lecturer, Western Sydney University; James Higham, Professor of Tourism, and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

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

Plain sailing: how traditional methods could deliver zero-emission shipping



File 20180525 51141 igdfic.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Avontuur recently completed a sail-powered transatlantic cargo voyage.
Timbercoast

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

On May 10, the 43.5-metre schooner Avontuur arrived in the port of Hamburg. This traditional sailing vessel, built in 1920, transported some 70 tonnes of coffee, cacao and rum across the Atlantic. The shipping company Timbercoast, which owns and operates Avontuur, says it aims to prove that sailing ships can offer an environmentally sustainable alternative to the heavily polluting shipping industry, despite being widely seen as a technology of yesteryear.




Read more:
The urgency of curbing pollution from ships, explained


Similar initiatives exist across the world. In the Netherlands, Fairtransport operates two vessels on European and transatlantic routes. In France, Transoceanic Wind Transport sails multiple vessels across the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean, and along European coasts. The US-based vessel Kwai serves islands in the Pacific. And Sail Cargo, based in Costa Rica, is building Ceiba, a zero-emission cargo sailing ship.

Transporting cargo by sail is both a practical response to climate change and a contribution to a larger debate.

These initiatives have an environmental objective: transporting cargo without generating greenhouse gas emissions. But are they really a viable alternative to today’s huge fossil-fuelled maritime cargo transport industry?

Shipping emission targets?

On April 13, 2018, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates shipping, agreed for the first time to limit the sector’s greenhouse emissions. It’s targeting a 50% reduction by 2050 (relative to 2008 levels), with the aim to phase out emissions entirely.

This was a breakthrough, given that both the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement exclude international shipping (and international aviation) from emissions targets, because these are so hard to attribute to individual countries.

Conventional seaborne cargo transport is relatively energy-efficient. It emits less greenhouse gas per tonne-kilometre (one tonne of goods transported over one kilometre) than transport by train, truck or plane. But because 80-90% of all goods we consume are transported by sea, the total emissions of the shipping industry are immense.

According to figures from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), shipping accounts for 2-3% of global emissions – outstripping the 2% share generated by civil aviation.

As the global demand for goods increases, so does the need for shipping. As a result, the IMO has projected that the sector’s greenhouse emissions will grow by anything between 50% and 250% between 2012 and 2050, despite improvements in fuel composition and efficiency. More worryingly, a commentary on that report in Nature Climate Change warns that “none of the anticipated shipping scenarios even approach what is necessary for the sector to make its ‘fair and proportionate’ contribution to avoiding 2℃ of warming”.

A recent report commissioned by the European Parliament raises further alarm bells, underscoring the fact that the sector’s huge growth is likely to swamp any carbon savings that come from improved operations. On top of this, the significant progress made in other industries means that the relative share of greenhouse gas emissions from cargo shipping is likely to increase from the current 2-3% to 17% by 2050.

Yo ho ho, shipping rum the old-fashioned way aboard the Aventuur.
Timbercoast

Zero-emission vessels?

The OECD International Transport Forum is less pessimistic. It projects a 23% increase in the sector’s emissions between 2015 and 2035 on current trends, but also argues that it will be possible to decarbonise maritime transport altogether by 2035, through the “maximum deployment of currently known technologies”.

These emissions-reducing propulsion technologies include kites, solar electricity, and advanced sail technology. Some of them, such as Flettner rotors, are already in use. But these will not be scaled up and become viable unless there is strict regulation, even if some shipping companies have taken steps to reduce their emissions ahead of a binding IMO target. Electricity-propelled container barges operate in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the IMO faced a tricky balancing act in juggling the priorities of different countries. Climate-vulnerable nations such as the Marshall Islands want shipping emissions to be cut entirely by 2035. The European Union has proposed a reduction of 70-100% by 2050, while emerging economies such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India have argued against any emissions target at all. Despite these differences, the IMO did agree on a 50% reduction target by 2050 in April 2018.

Sail cargo

It took Avontuur 126 days to sail from France to Honduras, Mexico, Cuba and home to Germany. But conventional container ships can cross the Atlantic in about a week. Avontuur was carrying more than 70 tonnes of cargo on arrival in Germany. But many cargo vessels now carry more than 20,000 standard shipping containers (TEU), each weighing more than 2 tonnes and able to hold more than 20 tonnes of cargo.

Given the relatively small capacity of sailing ships, it is expensive and labour-intensive to ship cargo this way. But despite these limitations, support for sail cargo initiatives is growing. A consortium of small North Sea ports, for example, will “create sail cargo hubs in small ports and harbours, giving local businesses direct access to ethically transported goods”.

Ceiba, a new sailing vessel builds on traditional skills and incorporates new technologies to help attain global carbon emission targets.

These initiatives signal the revival of sail cargo with an explicit environmental agenda, although this effort is dwarfed by the scale of the global shipping industry. But while they don’t stack up in logistical terms, these voyages can help us see the possibilities for a world without fossil fuels. Sail cargo aims to rethink not only the means of propulsion for cargo vessels, but the entire scale, economy and ethics of cargo transport.

Traditional sailing vessels like Avontuur will not be able to compete with conventional cargo vessels on speed, scale or cost. But they help us focus on the underlying issue. We ship too much, too often and too far. The scale of shipping is unsustainable. That is why we need a change of mindset as much as a change of technology.

The ConversationSail cargo initiatives raise awareness about the devastating environmental effects of conventional cargo shipping. And they do so by showing that an alternative is possible. Indeed, it has been around for thousands of years.

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Lecturer in Cultural Policy, University of Melbourne

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

Too wet? Too cold? Too hot? This is how weather affects the trips we make


Jonathan Corcoran, The University of Queensland; Dorina Pojani, The University of Queensland; Francisco Rowe, University of Liverpool; Jiangping Zhou, University of Hong Kong; Jiwon Kim, The University of Queensland; Ming Wei, The University of Queensland; Sui Tao, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Thomas Sigler, The University of Queensland, and Yan Liu, The University of Queensland

What sorts of weather lead us to change our daily travel behaviour? How do we respond to scorching heatwaves, sapping humidity, snow and frost, strong winds, or torrential rain? International research shows weather is important in shaping our everyday movements.

The research evidence suggests that bad weather can lead to planned journeys being rescheduled, rerouted or cancelled. The consequences of these shifts in daily travel choices can include increases in traffic congestion and accidents, travel delays, mental stress, environmental pollution and general travel dissatisfaction.

Because people who travel by bike or walking are most likely to change travel plans in bad weather, some cities are responding with innovations such as heated bicycle lanes and sheltered walkways.




Read more:
This is how Sydney’s transport system has gone off the rails


Why do we care about the weather?

Firstly, how do we explain people’s common obsession with the weather? As Samuel Johnson put it:

It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.

Is this merely a keen (or indeed pathological) interest in the subject?

According to Kate Fox, these conversations are not really about the weather at all: weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help Anglo-Australian people overcome their natural reserve and actually talk to one another. Weather-speak can be used as a greeting, as an ice-breaker, and/or as a “filler” subject.

But, beyond its use as a conversation prop and social bonding device, weather does play a major role in travel behaviour. And as the impacts of climate change unfold, the severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions are predicted to increase.

Walking across the street calls for caution during an icy winter storm in Chicago.
vonderauvisuals/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

A better understanding of the dynamics of the relationship between weather and travel behaviour is thus essential in helping cities develop transport and planning responses appropriate to their conditions.




Read more:
Here’s what bike-sharing programs need to succeed


What do we know about the weather-travel relationship?

It’s complicated. Research on the weather-travel relationship has revealed that effects vary by mode of travel.

Active transport, such as walking and cycling, is the most vulnerable to variations in the weather. Arriving drenched is both uncomfortable and impractical, so we might drive rather than face this prospect. Wet weather forecasts are likely to trigger a travel mode shift as travellers opt for greater comfort and safety.

But the day of the week also affects these decisions. Inclement weather is more likely to reduce weekend and off-peak travel – the so-called discretionary trips – than standard weekday commute trips. Clearly, travel purpose plays a stronger role than weather.

Significant variation exists in the effects of weather on trip-makers with different individual characteristics and household composition. For example, commuters with children are less likely to alter their travel because of the weather. This is possibly due to their household responsibilities.

Geographic variations across the transit network have been observed too. Bad weather has more serious effects in areas with less frequent services and without protected bus and rail stops. Travellers in areas with more frequent services and well-designed shelters appear to be less sensitive to bad weather.

High-density cities appear to reduce the impacts of weather on active transport, with this cyclist braving the rain in Osaka.
Akuppa John Wigham/Flickr, CC BY

In areas with high population densities, the effect of weather also appears to weaken. This is particularly the case for active transportation such as cycling.

How we travel during inclement weather also involves more subtle changes. Trip chaining, or the process of stringing together multiple smaller journeys into a larger one, is reduced in complexity, particularly on rainy days.

In terms of “extreme” weather, not all types have the same effect. Heavy precipitation (snow or rain) and, to a lesser extent, extremely high or low temperatures appear to have a greater effect on travel behaviour than strong winds or high humidity.

Adapting to weather conditions

We cannot change the weather. But we can plan our transport systems to be more resilient and better shield us from the weather when we travel.

If we don’t do this, we will face the same crisis as Transport for London. Since its privatisation, its train services experience delays every autumn and winter due to “leaves on the line” and “the wrong type of snow”.




Read more:
Why does a bit of snow plunge Britain into transport chaos?


Heavy snow can stop traffic altogether, as in New York in winter 2010.
Chris Ford/Flickr, CC BY-NC

What kind of transport adaptations are available and work? The options range from offering passengers a more diverse choice of modes, to improving existing infrastructure. For example, making public transport stations more user-friendly could soften the impact of bad weather.

More seamless interchanges may have a strong effect, as commuters generally find modal transfers stressful. Temperature-controlled, covered or underground transfer stations would protect passengers while between modes of transport.

Active travel infrastructure is particularly important. Cities that are committed to supporting non-motorised transport have implemented or proposed bold policies.

We see examples of this around the world. Increasingly hot Madrid is covering itself in trees to assist pedestrians. Frosty Dutch cities are testing heated bicycle lanes. Arid Doha has floated the idea of cooled bicycle paths. And Singapore plans to expand the city’s network of sheltered walkways.

Projecting roofs and porticoes shield us from the hot sun or precipitation. Vegetation lessens the impacts of both cold wind in temperate and subpolar latitudes and hot sunshine elsewhere.

People out and about in the hot weather of Perth welcome shade and cooling fountains.
Traveller_40/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Beyond these incremental interventions, a fundamental rethink of our urban design approach is necessary. The key to limiting and adapting to the effects of weather on travel may well be the “30-minute city”. But this can only be achieved through high densities and mixed land use – concepts that have so far generated fierce resistance and NIMBYism in Australia.




Read more:
’30-minute city’? Not in my backyard! Smart Cities Plan must let people have their say


The ConversationAnother word of caution. What works in one climate zone might not work in another. This is because human bodies and minds adjust and develop different expectations and tolerance to weather and temperature patterns. For example, the optimal temperature range for cycling is as broad as 4-40°C in continental climates, but as narrow as 15-32°C in subtropical climates.

Jonathan Corcoran, Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Dorina Pojani, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning, The University of Queensland; Francisco Rowe, Lecturer in Quantitative Human Geography, University of Liverpool; Jiangping Zhou, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Planning and Design, University of Hong Kong; Jiwon Kim, Lecturer in Transport Engineering, The University of Queensland; Ming Wei, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Sui Tao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Future Cities, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Thomas Sigler, Lecturer in Human Geography, The University of Queensland, and Yan Liu, Associate Professor, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland

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

Planning and Organising a Holiday Using Evernote


The link below is to an article that looks at planning and organising a holiday by using Evernote.

For more visit:
https://blog.evernote.com/blog/2018/01/15/plan-amazing-trip-of-a-lifetime/

Massive road and rail projects could be Africa’s greatest environmental challenge


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

Africa’s natural environments and spectacular wildlife are about to face their biggest challenge ever. In a paper published today in Current Biology, my colleagues and I assess the dramatic environmental changes that will be driven by an infrastructure-expansion scheme so sweeping in scope, it is dwarfing anything the Earth’s biggest continent has ever been forced to endure.

People, food and mining

Africa’s population is exploding – expected nearly to quadruple this century, according to the United Nations. With that, comes an escalating need to improve food production and food security.

In addition, Africa today is experiencing a frenzy of mining activity, with most of the investment coming from overseas. China, for instance, is investing over US$100 billion annually, with India, Brazil, Canada and Australia also being big foreign investors.

To feed its growing population and move its minerals to shipping ports for export, Africa needs better roads and railroads. When located in the right places, improved transportation can do a lot of good. It makes it easier for farmers to get access to fertiliser and new farming technologies, and cheaper to get crops to urban markets with less spoilage. It can also encourage rural investment while improving livelihoods, access to health services, and education for local residents.

Improved transportation is especially important for Africa’s agriculture, which is badly under-performing. In many areas, large “yield gaps” exist between what could be produced under ideal conditions and what is actually being produced. With better farming, Africa’s yields could be doubled or even tripled without clearing one more hectare of land.

Using rudimentary methods, small-scale farmers eke out a living in Gabon.
William Laurance

Pandora’s box

However, there is another side to new transportation projects — a dark side, especially for the environment. When located in areas with high environmental values, new roads or railroads can open a Pandora’s box of problems.

Roads slicing into remote areas can lead to range of legal and illegal human land uses. For instance, in the Amazon, 95% of all deforestation occurs within five kilometres of a road; and for every kilometre of legal road there are three kilometres of illegal roads. In the Congo Basin, forest elephants decline sharply, and signs of hunters and poachers increase, up to 50 kilometres from roads.

A forest elephant shot by poachers.
Ralph Buij

In the wrong places, roads can facilitate invasions of natural areas by illegal miners, colonists, loggers and land speculators. In my view, the explosive expansion of roads today is probably the greatest single peril to the world’s natural environments and wildlife.

Africa’s ‘development corridors’

Earlier studies that my colleagues and I conducted, including a major study published in Nature last year, suggest Africa is likely to be a global epicentre of environmental conflict. A key reason: an unprecedented scheme to dramatically expand African roads, railroads and energy infrastructure.

In total, we have identified 33 massive “development corridors” that are being proposed or are underway. At the heart of each corridor is a road or railroad, sometimes accompanied by a pipeline or power line.

The 33 development corridors that are being proposed or constructed in sub-Saharan Afirca.
William F. Laurance et al. (2015) Current Biology.

The projects have a variety of proponents, including the African Development Bank, national governments, international donors and lenders, and commercial agricultural and mining interests. They’re intended to promote large-scale development and their scope is breathtaking.

If completed in their entirety, the corridors will total over 53,000 kilometres in length, crisscrossing the African continent. Some individual corridors are over 4,000 kilometres long.

Will these corridors generate key social and economic benefits, or will they cause great environmental harm? To address this question, we looked at three factors, focusing on a 50-kilometre-wide band laid over the top of each corridor.

First, we assessed the “natural values” of each corridor, by combining data on its biodiversity, endangered species, critical habitats for wildlife, and the carbon storage and climate-regulating benefits of its native vegetation.

Second, we mapped human populations near each corridor, using satellite data to detect nightlights from human settlements (to avoid lands that were simply being burned, we included only places with “persistent” nightlights). We then combined the natural-value and population data to generate a conservation-value score for each corridor, reasoning that sparsely populated areas with high natural values have the greatest overall conservation value.

Finally, we estimated the potential for new roads or railroads to increase food production. Areas that scored highly had soils and climates suitable for farming but large yield gaps, were within several hours’ drive of a city or port, and were projected to see large future increases in food demand.

Costs versus benefits

When we compared the conservation value of each corridor with its potential agricultural benefits, we found huge variation among the corridors.

A two-minute video summary of our study’s main findings

A half dozen of the corridors look like a really good idea, with large benefits and limited environmental costs. However, another half dozen seem like a really bad idea, in that they’d damage critical environments, especially rainforests of the Congo Basin and West Africa and biologically rich equatorial savanna regions.

In the middle, there are 20 or so corridors that appear “marginal”. These tend to have high environmental values and high potential agricultural benefits, or vice versa.

We argue that these marginal projects should be evaluated in detail, on a case-by-case basis. If they do proceed, it should only happen under the most stringent conditions, with careful environmental assessment and land-use planning, and with specific measures in place (such as new protected areas) to limit or mitigate their impacts.

Dangers for Africa

There’s no such thing as a free ride. For Africa, the dangers of the development corridors are profound. Even if well executed, we estimate that the current avalanche of corridors would slice through over 400 protected areas and could easily degrade another 2,000 or so. This bodes poorly for Africa’s wildlife and biodiversity generally.

Wild zebras in the Serengeti.
William Laurance

Beyond this, the corridors will encourage human migration into many sparsely populated areas with high environmental values. The wild card in all this is the hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investments pouring into Africa each year for mining. Even if a corridor is likely to yield only modest benefits for food production, it may be very difficult for governments and decision makers to say no to big mining investors.

The bottom line: it could be a fraught battle to stop even ill-advised development corridors, though not impossible. If we shine a bright light on the corridors and argue strongly that those with limited benefits and large costs are a bad idea, we may succeed in stopping or at least delaying some of the worst of them.

This is unquestionably a vital endeavour. Africa is changing faster than any continent has ever changed in human history, and it is facing unprecedented socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

The next few decades will be crucial. We could promote relatively sustainable and equitable development — or end up with an impoverished continent whose iconic natural values and wildlife have been irretrievably lost.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

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