If you drive during the winter, you know how important it is to have clear roads.
You’ve likely had at least one trip where your vehicle slipped to and fro on the pavement, raising your blood pressure and threatening fellow commuters. It’s scary and frustrating.
Governments try to keep up, sending out plows and treating roads with rock salt, among other preparations. But it turns out that this approach creates its own problems.
According to reporter Kyle Bagenstose, of the USA Today network: “Each year, Americans spread more than 48 billion pounds of salt on roadways to ward off the effects of winter weather. But it comes at a cost: De-icing salt degrades roads and bridges, contaminates drinking water and harms the environment, according to a slate of scientists expressing growing alarm.”
We started using rock salt to de-ice roads back in the 1940s, but the approach has exploded over the past two decades. And while the numbers seem alarming, they likely understate the overall amount of salt used, as private use and that of some states isn’t included in the statistics.
Commuters need clear roads. But we shouldn’t have to destroy our infrastructure and environments in order to drive safely.
In a nutshell, this problem demonstrates the drawbacks of a take-no-prisoners, aggressive-at-all costs culture that requires constant work. We risk our lives by heading outside at all costs. Our employers — or our own sense of self-worth — often demand it. Government responds, but the cure ends up being worse than the illness.
We can see precisely the same contradiction in warnings of climate change. We know that our present course threatens the well-being of the planet to some degree. But we have become accustomed to living in a way and existing in a world that threatens the very underpinnings of that world.
How we react to these kinds of challenges says a lot about us. Do we close our eyes and deny that the problem exists? Do we do the bare minimum required to keep functioning?
Or do we step back and re-evaluate the choices we have made and the society in which we live? Do we take the time to ask if our presence in the workplace is really necessary on days when snow and ice covers the road? Do we consider whether our vehicle purchases — bigger, heavier, meaner — are really justified?
The balancing act is a challenging one. But it's needed for us — and the world around us.