Saturday, April 23, 2016

Engineering Bridges to Everywhere

From the new book by Parag Khanna - Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization:

"Connectivity is the the new meta-pattern of our age.  Like liberty or capitalism, it is a world-historical idea, one that gestates, spreads, and transforms over a long timescale and brings about epochal changes.  Despite the acute unpredictability that afflicts our world today, we can be adequately certain of current mega-trends such as rapid urbanization and ubiquitous technology.  Every day, for the first time in their lives, millions of people switch on mobile phones, log on to the web, move into cities, or fly on an airplane.  We go where opportunity and technology allow. Connectivity is thus more that a tool; it is an impulse.

No matter which way we connect, we do so through infrastructure.  While the word "infrastructure" is less than a century old, it represents nothing less than our physical capacity for global interaction.  Engineering advances have made new infrastructure possible that were dreams of previous generations.  Over a century ago, crucial geographic interventions such as the Suez and Panama Canals reshaped global navigation and trade.  Since the nineteenth century, Ottoman sultans aspired to construct a tunnel that would connect Istanbul's European and Asian sides.  Now Turkey has both the Marmaray tunnel that opened in 2013 and freight railways and oil and gas pipelines that are strengthening its position as a key corridor between Europe and China.  Turkey has been called the country where continents collide; now it is the country where continents connect.  The early twentieth-century Japanese emperor Taisho also sought to link Honshu and northern Hokkaido Island, but only in the 1980s did it complete the Seikan Tunnel, which traverses fifty-four kilometers (including twenty-three kilometers under the seabed) and carries Shinkansen high-speed trains.  Once the tunnels to Sakhalin and South Korea are complete, Japan won't truly be an island anymore.

We are in only the early phase of reengineering the planet to facilitate surging flows of people, commodities, goods, data, and capital.  Indeed, the new wave of transcontinental and intercontinental mega-infrastructure is even more ambitious; an interoceanic highway across the Amazon from Sao Paulo to Peru's Pacific port of San Juan de Marcona, bridges connecting Arabia to Africa, a tunnel from Siberia to Alaska, polar submarine cables on the Arctic seabed from London to Tokyo, and electricity grids transferring Saharan solar power under the Mediterranean to Europe.  Britain's exclave of Gibraltar will be the  mouth of a tunnel under the Mediterranean to Tangier in Morocco, from which a new high-speed rail extends down the coast to Casablanca.  Even where continents are not physically attaching to each, ports and airports are expanding to absorb the massive increase in cross-continental flows."

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