Dirty Snow: What cleaning the roads is doing to the environment

There’s two very broad reasons for giving a fuck about the environment: One is because you think the natural world is special and shouldn’t be destroyed for human profit/gain. I personally don’t disagree with this reason, but I don’t value it as much as the second reason, and I’m assuming there’s going to be more action taken to help the environment if we motivate people with the second reason, which is this: Fucking up the planet is going to make your life harder. There’s going to be less biodiversity (different species of plants and animals), which means the safety net of our ecosystem will be weaker, which means there will be random spikes in price associated with things like drought, toxic chemicals destroying nature’s infrastructure, and various other environmental impacts which basically make life harder for even the most right winged climate denying elephant hunter.

I live in Concord, New Hampshire, and I don’t have a car, so I walk around a lot. Usually the sidewalks and the edges of the roads are either covered in snow or sand. We’re reaching the end of another winter, and I usually notice the edges of the roads, sidewalks, and the areas stretching out beyond the sidewalks in Concord are covered with sand. Large areas where there used to be grass are now dead because of the sand covering up the grass. So I got to thinking: What are the environmental impacts of how we deal with snow on the roads?

There’s three aspects of keeping our roads clear during the winter which basically fucks the environment. Road salt and other snow removal chemicals that get put down each winter wash into the local bodies of water and harm the wildlife populations in surrounding areas (Rastogi 2). Salt is also known to cause large herbivores such as deer, elk, and moose to come to the side of the road and try to lick the salt off the ground, which is hazardous to passing drivers and the wildlife (Plumer 1). America dumps 15 million tons of salt on its roads each winter, and this is corrosive to cars, bridges, roads, and anything made out of concrete and/or steel. Xianming Shi, an associate professor in civil engineering at Washington State University estimates the US spends about $2.3 billion each year to remove snow and ice from highways, then another $5 billion to pay for the damage caused by the salt, not including the price for salting and cleaning city and local roads. New Hampshire became the first state to use salt in the winter of 1941-’42, and salt use spread from there with the rise of the interstate highway system (Plumer 3). Seattle, Washington doesn’t use salt on their roads out of environmental concern, but scientists who have studied the environmental impact of Seattle’s snow removal process argue that spreading salt over the snow dillutes the salt, which is less harmful to the surrounding rivers and streams than sand (Kelleher, Conrad 3). These ecological experts argue that the diluted salt isn’t nearly as bad for the environment as sand.

This is because the sand can clog drainage systems, and damage the aquatic environments of insects and fish. Again, you might not give a fuck about the fish, but the environment is a delicate thing (Effects 2-3). You can’t just say “Fuck it, let’s kill all the salmon.” and not expect to have any negative impacts on your own life. The Convention for Biodiversity is held by “The Convention about Life On Earth”, a group created by the United Nations to promote an environmental and ecological agenda: basically to protect the environment for everyone. In 2014 the convention stated: “At least 40 percent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change .” (Shah 1). So basically farming, dealing with natural disasters, and promoting healthy ecosystems all become harder when we have less biodiversity.

Right now it’s snowing like a motherfucker outside in New Hampshire, and the rest of New England, and you might be thinking “yeah, nobody gives a fuck about salt runoff right now” and you’d be right. It’s snowing so hard most of the businesses in Concord have shut down for the day, and only the unstoppable juggernaut McDonald’s was open, but even they closed at 3 pm. Snow is always going to be a part of American life, assuming we never reach a sort of Kevin Costner WaterWorld-hellscape brought on by global warming. So I’m not really suggesting we say “Well fuckit, let’s all just forget about cleaning the roads up,” but I do think we need to take a hard look at the long term impacts of what we’re doing. All of these environmental effects of the way we live add up. And sure, a lot of people are going to say “Oh, fuck all that, there’s no way we can hurt the environment, the environment’s been here for millions of years, and we’re not going anywhere any time soon”. Well they’re kind of right, but in the same way that people who thought the universe revolves around the earth were kind of right. In reality, organic life formed on earth about 3.8 billion years ago, whereas the earth is only 4.6 billion years old (History 1).

Climate change is way worse than we ever thought. Since 1998 the planet has warmed twice as fast as scientists had then predicted. In July of 2017 a trillion ton iceberg the size of Delaware broke off from Antarctica: ‘Larsen C’ (Levitz 2). Some scientists agree that even we stop using fossil fuels in the next decade coastal landmasses such as Miami and Bangladesh will be under water by the end of the century. Basically, many people and places are already fucked (Wallace-Wells 4). In a world where less and less people are in the ‘middle class’ and more people’s economic prospects are getting worse, it’s going to be harder to pack up and move away from the effects of climate change. The economy is becoming increasingly integrated on a global level, so there will be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from climate change. So what does any of this have to do with the summer sands on the sidewalks of Concord, New Hampshire?

Damage to the environment has to be dealt with problem by problem, and nobody ever did anything great or really big all at once, and in a single day. I wrote this article and tried to publish it during the middle of a big storm because nobody’s going to give a shit as soon as the snow stops. People don’t think about problems that aren’t right in front of them. If something can be abstracted to ‘oh, I don’t see that’ then it’s not real. This article was for people who already believed in climate change. I say believe, and not ‘understand’ or ‘know’ because we all have to believe facts we claim to ‘know’. This is why some people we perceive as ‘ignorant’ or ‘stupid’ can be fooled into thinking climate change isn’t real, or whatever other thing which we all consider obvious isn’t real. More and more people nowadays think the earth is flat: no joke! Hell, even I think these people are ignorant and stupid. But again, belief is a choice: not a given fact. I have no idea what to do about these problems. So I’ve done the only thing I know how to do. I wrote about it. Whatever you’re good at: you should spend just a little bit of that energy and talent on fixing one solvable, somewhat small problem which is destroying the environment. Today I wrote about the roads. I don’t even know what the impacts of what we’re doing to the roads are, but as I hope I’ve shown here, I can’t even say I know it’s bad, but I can definitely say I don’t know it’s nothing.

Works Cited:

“History of life on Earth.” bbc.co.uk, BBC, 2018,               http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/history_of_the_earth.

“The Effects Of Snow Removal On The Environment.” Blogs.Umass.edu, Debating Science 29, April, 2015, https://blogs.umass.edu/natsci397a-eross/the-effects-of-snow-removal-on-the-environment-2/.

Kelleher, Conrad. “Sand on roads worse than salt, scientists say.” SeattleTimes.com, Seatle Times 24, Dec, 2008, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/sand-on-roads-worse-than-salt-scientists-say/.

Levitz, Eric. “Trillion-Ton Iceberg Breakss Off Antarctic Ice Shelf.” nymag.com, New York Media LLC., 12, July, 2017 http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/trillion-ton-iceberg-breaks-off-antarctic-ice-shelf.html.

Plumer, Brad. “How America got addicted to road salt – and why it’s become a problem.” Vox.com, Vox Media, Inc., 25 Jan. 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/1/13/7531833/road-salt-environment-alternatives

Rastogi, Nina. “Salting The Earth: Does road salt harm the Environment?” Slate.com, Slate Group 16, Feb. 2010, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2010/02/salting_the_earth.html.

Shah, Anup. “Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares?” globalissues.org, Anup Shah, 19, April, 2014, http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares

Wallace-Wells, David. “The Uninhabitable Earth”. NYMag.com, New York Media, 9, July, 2017, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html.

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