From Burst Pipes in Texas to Melted Roads in France, the Climate Crisis Is Too Much for Existing Infrastructure

People arrive to London Luton Airport with WizzAir flight as
Luton Airport in England, where a melting runway delayed flights. Dominika Zarzycka / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images
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As deadly heat waves continue around the world, the climate crisis is making itself evident on the very roads we drive on. 

When the weather gets hotter, building materials including asphalt and concrete expand and crack, CNN explained. And this has led to incidents from London to China as aging infrastructure meets record high temperatures.

“Most of our physical infrastructure was built using the temperature records of the mid-20th century,” Costa Samaras, principal assistant director for energy with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, told The Washington Post. “That is not the climate we have now.”

In China, high temperatures in mid-July melted tiles on the roof of a museum in Chongqing, as EcoWatch reported at the time. During the same heat wave, a road in a town in Jiangxi province buckled up six inches. 

The high heat that brought the UK its first temperature reading higher than 40 degrees Celsius also melted a runway at Luton Airport, disrupting flights. 

The high temperatures also inspired some interesting methods of protecting infrastructure in the usually mild island nation. Foil was wrapped around London’s Hammersmith Bridge in order to reflect sunlight and keep the structure itself cool, as CNN reported. Further, Network Rail began painting London railways white in order to prevent them from overheating. 

“The rail temperature here is over 48 degrees Celsius so we’re painting the rails white to prevent them from getting hotter,” Network Rail tweeted.

Roads across the Channel in the EU have not been spared. Journalist Sasha Abramsky had a direct encounter with what high heat does to roads when his car overheated in the Pyrenees in France. 

‘My personal experience of this week’s ‘heat apocalypse’ in Europe involved discovering large globs of hot, sticky tar stuck to my leg after I trod in melted asphalt on a mountain road in France on Sunday afternoon: The road that I was walking on had literally begun to melt,” he wrote for Truthout.

The high temperatures added extra challenges to the competitors in the Tour de France bicycle race, which concluded Sunday. During the race, organizers had to spray down some of the roads to keep them stable, The Washington Post reported. The combination of high heat and an iconic competition also prompted some protests, when demonstrators chained themselves together to block the cyclists on two occasions. 

“The world toward which politicians are sending us is a world in which the Tour de France will no longer exist,” Dernière Rènovation, the group behind the protests, said in a statement reported by The Washington Post.

Infrastructure in the U.S. has not emerged unscathed. In Fort Worth, Texas, hot, dry weather caused the ground to shift and therefore break an abnormal amount of water main pipes last week.

“Through 8 a.m. Monday, Fort Worth Water had 476 main breaks in 2022, with 221 of those in the past 90 days,” a Fort Worth press release reported by CNN said. “The telling number is the 182 in the last 30 days — over 38% of the yearly total.”

Roads especially are so vulnerable to high heat because asphalt gets soft when it’s hot, while concrete can expand and buckle, according to The Washington Post. As the climate crisis makes heat waves more frequent and extreme, infrastructure will need to be updated to accommodate higher normal temperatures. However, simply redoing roads is not enough.

“The bottom line is: we are not going to only build our way out of this,” Samaras told The Washington Post. “We must decarbonize our energy uses and learn how to remove carbon we’ve already added to the atmosphere.”

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