Infrastructure After the Pandemic: Shifting from Carbon to Silicon
Updated: May 20, 2020
In this first-ever blog on the website of Moseley Infrastructure Advisory Services, I want to touch upon a question which infrastructure specialists around the world are currently asking – what will be the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the infrastructure which societies will need in the future. It seems clear to me that a major transition is about to happen, during which we will move away from traditional ‘physical networks’, and towards enhanced ‘digital networks’ – a shift, in other words, from carbon to silicon.
Many historians have noted that pandemics have often been the catalyst for epochal change. And the early evidence from the worldwide experience with COVID-19 strongly suggests that this could be another ‘hinge moment’ in history. Editorial writers, academics, economists and business leaders have all recently offered opinions as to how the pandemic will alter various aspects of society, ranging from the largest institutions, such as governments and international organisations, to the very smallest, such as communities and families. The views expressed by these commentators are varied and inconsistent, but there seems to be a growing consensus that previous patterns of behaviour will have to change. There also appears to be a growing realisation that our societies need to become more resilient, and better able to deal with existential risks.
Of course, a key existential risk of our times is climate change – and there is, again, some early evidence that the pandemic is changing how we now think about that risk. Literally hundreds of millions of people have been involuntarily forced to understand that our carbon footprints can be reduced. There are alternatives to making a long daily commute to an office in the city. It is possible to stay in touch with family and friends without piling into our cars. And, perhaps, it does not make a great deal of sense to fly halfway around the world for a three-hour meeting.
These new understandings could well have a profound impact on the world’s future infrastructure needs. People may well decide that they do not need as many new roads, or new rail systems, or new airports, as governments have forecast. However – and it is a very significant ‘however’ – we will not be able to reduce our reliance on ‘traditional’ infrastructure networks unless and until we can achieve much greater access to the ‘digital’ alternatives. As I indicated in a recent Op-Ed article (https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202005/06/WS5eb1f259a310a8b24115379f.html), there are still billions of individuals without digital connectivity, and there are many more for whom such connectivity is unreliable, unaffordable or both.
From this perspective, the pandemic can be seen as an opportunity. We can – and should – use the knowledge we have gained from this event to shift the focus of our infrastructure from traditional networks to digital networks. In short, from this tragic experience, we can learn a valuable lesson as to how life can be lived, and give ourselves a more sustainable planet as a result.
This blog is the first of a series that will appear approximately every two weeks on this website. It has been written by Mark Moseley, the Principal of Moseley Infrastructure Advisory Services (Mark.Moseley@MMMInfra.com). Unless otherwise noted, the copyright in this blog is owned by Moseley Infrastructure Advisory Services. The blog is made available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence, whereby users are free to copy and redistribute the contents of the blog, if they give credit to the author, and clearly indicate any changes that have been made.
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Photo credit: Matheus Bertelli, available on Pexels