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how roads destroy the environment

How Roads Pave The Way To Environmental Destruction


Before the invention of wheeled carriages and animal domestication, all transportation was on foot. Narrow footpaths were all we needed to go from place to place. With animal domestication and settlements the paths became wider to allow space for caravans of pack animals. When cities expanded so did militaries. And with the large army forces, the roads had to be widened and made more stable for the fast movement of long army marches.

Soon after or maybe during the same time, wheeled carts were invented that were pulled by animals. First used by traders and farmers, then by militaries. During this time the main trading routes became cobblestone instead of hard dirt. With these wheeled carts, roads had to become even more stable for the smooth rotation of the wheels.

The use of wheeled carts continued for a long time. Carts became fancier and stronger allowing for the transportation of humans and wheels became more efficient and round. At the same time, the number of roads increased all over. All of this happened until the industrial revolution with the invention of the steam engine locomotive and the gas-powered car.
For the locomotive, thousands upon thousands of railroad tracks were laid down all across the globe with wooden and steel beams. As for the car, roads became paved far and wide.

All of this of course resulted in massive deforestation wherever the roads and rail tracks were built.
As the population increased and cars became faster, more efficient and mass-produced roads had to be widened more and more. Whatever leftover trees were growing alongside the roads had to be cut down for the ever-widening roads from highways to sky ways.

During the same period with the advancement of modern airplanes more land had to be cleared for building airports with large landing strips. Airports became connected with roads to cities and in between along the roads, towns and villages became bigger with increased trade. Restaurants, shops, factories, offices, and houses all became connected in the giant network of roads.

Now we can no longer go without them. When a major road becomes blocked the transportation stops and slows down and society comes to halt. And for it, We endure sitting in traffic every day for many hours with our fellow humans to go to our destination.

Roads And Deforestation In The Rain Forest

In the rain forests across the world, it is usually the start of roads that are the first causes of deforestation.

First small pathways are created in the forest the nearest modern settlement towards tribes to facilitate trading or the coming of Christian missionaries to convert the tribes.
At first, these small pathways are not much harmed as the vegetation quickly grows back, but with prolonged use eventually, the pathways become established. The trading also brings in steel machetes, axes, and guns to the tribes. This increases the speed of cutting vegetation formerly done with stone axes and the hunting of animals which before was done with poison-laced wooden blow darts, spears, and arrows.

Soon after the paths are used by small-scale loggers and small-scale gold miners. These loggers and miners are usually from nearby small villages. Which use the resources for extra income. The easiest to reach trees are the first to go which are the ones around the paths, then the miners create many smaller side paths in search of gold.

Very slowly the paths become wider and wider. Then when the rain comes these paths turn into rivers and all the soil is washed away since there are no longer any roots holding the soil together. What is left over is hardened subsoil. This provides enough stability for small tractors to come in. And with it, large tracts of land are cleared to make way for mono-crop farms.
Finally, once the soil has been nearly exhausted and destroyed from deforestation and chemical mono-crop farming the land is turned over to pastures for cow grazing.

In the end what started with a small and simple path through the forest turned into clear cut deforested lands with intense soil erosion, chemical pollution, and severe biodiversity loss.

The tribes that once lived there freely, independently, and self-sufficient on the bountiful resources of the abundant forests have now become poor laborers working on modern man’s farms under threat of military and poverty.

Past Experiences With Roads And The Loss Of Trees

I have a few personal experiences with the building of roads and the destruction of nature. When I was a child the road in my street was upgraded with new stones, with it the road would be expanded add extra parking spaces for increased use of cars. The government planned a few such parking spaces in our garden. And so a small portion of my family’s garden was demolished to build a parking space. This parking was not used by us, but by one of the neighbors.

My grandfather had a small-scale farm and one day the government decided a big highway should be built near this farm. Altho this highway was not built over my grandfather’s farm it was built very close to it. Other farmers were unlucky as the road was built on top of their farms. The small countryside road that connected the farm was demolished and all the beautiful trees alongside the road were cut with it. Because of this many farmers lost income from not being able to transport their produce and they were forced to sell their lands to the government so the government could build the highway. Any farmers that resisted or protested were bullied off their lands with frequent unfair environmental safety inspections and high fines.

Now the peace and silence of the countryside are ruined with the sound of constant cars passing by.
At the edge of my town is a small forest that I loved as a kid. I had many adventures there and learned to be among the trees. Sadly the government decided to make a road through the middle of the forest. Many trees were cut down and the forest became even smaller than it already was. In the places where I was once walking through tall standing trees, now speedy cars zoomed by.

Going out of my town there was a narrow countryside road, barely wide enough for a single car to drive on it. On both sides of the roads were small rivers surrounded by many trees.
Until one day the government decided the road had to be widened to allow more cars. All the trees were cut down and the rivers filled with sand. Now instead of bicycling on that road underneath the canopy of trees with the beautiful scenery of seeing birds fly about and ducks and ergot in the rivers; it has become just a boring road.

“Now instead of bicycling on that road underneath the canopy of trees with the beautiful scenery of seeing birds fly about and ducks and ergot in the rivers; it has become just a boring road.”

At the moment of this writing, the huge LRT and MRT railroad tracks are being built in Manila. To make room for this construction many magnificent giant trees have been cut down.
But even before this railroad construction, many trees were already cut down for the road widening of Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Current Experience With A Road Development

The farm I live on now with my wife is quite isolated. Passing from a countryside road which we call “The main road” one goes into a side road which is even more narrow. A single car can barely fit on this road. This paved side road stops about 500 meters away from the entrance of our farm. After that, it becomes a dirt road. The dirt road is hard in the dry season, but practically becomes a muddy river in the rainy season. From the entrance of the farm, it’s another 100 meters on a narrow footpath to our house.

The Dirt Road in our area, soil slowly being washed away by the strong current.

A few years ago the paved road stopped about 1 kilometer away from the farm, but since they have expanded it to stop around 500 meters before the farm. At the moment there are plans to expand the paved road further than our farm, these plans have only been stopped by the current Coronavirus epidemic. Just before the virus epidemic bulldozers and excavators have already passed by the farm to make the road more stable. The way they stabilize the soil was by scooping off soil from the nearby farms and putting it on the road to fill gaps and holes and to harden the dirt.

All the other farmers allowed their soil to be scooped. But us being concerned about soil erosion and from the simple fact that soil is one of the most important valuable things of a farmer we did not allow our soil to be scooped off our farm. Although we did not permit them one of the excavators still tried to scoop our soil on a part where many trees were growing. Just before it happened I jumped on the excavator and told it to stop. The operator being shocked immediately stopped. I had not intervened several trees of ours would have been killed and we would have to do deal with substantial soil erosion in that spot. The operator being annoyed was forced to get the soil from somewhere else.

Besides paving the road, the village wants to widen the road as well, from the 2,5 meters that it is now to 6 meters. That means that many of the trees alongside the road belonging to farmers need to be cut down. Including our trees as well. Besides the significant loss of many fruit and timber trees, this would also cause sever soil erosion on the hills.

There is even a house of a farmer that is on the edge of the road and his whole house would have to be demolished just to widen the road. As you can imagine many farmers are against this and it is very likely that there will be no road widening, but only pavement of the dirt roads. In any case, we will not allow any road widening and will fight against it.


Although in a way we are happy with the road being built on our farm for now we can drive out with the motorcycle and make carrying groceries easier. First, we had to carry our groceries from the end of the road all the way to our house which was very tiring or hire a water buffalo to carry our groceries. On the other hand, we are unhappy too. For now, there is increased noisy and polluting traffic passing by every day. First people used this road to walk on foot accompanied by water buffalo and horses. But now daily, motorcycles and trucks are passing by. The road is not even paved yet, just extra hardened with dirt. I am afraid that once it gets paved this opens up the area to even more deforestation and environmental destruction as outlined above.
Maybe even one day the road will need to be widened and then what? Our farm is right next to this road.

When we drive on our roads going to our wanted destination we are happy to have this luxury, but rarely do we think about all the sacrifices that have been made to build the roads that supply the modern world with its resources.

“When we drive on our roads going to our wanted destination we are happy to have this luxury, but rarely do we think about all the sacrifices that have been made to build the roads that supply the modern world with its resources.”

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1 thought on “How Roads Pave The Way To Environmental Destruction”

  1. “The way they stabilize the soil was by scooping off soil from the nearby farms and putting it on the road to fill gaps and holes and to harden the dirt.” — It is horrible to suppose that upgrading low portions of a road that needs to be elevated or firmed up should be performed with soil matter that are simply scooped up from nearby lands along a road project. This is a construction short-cut that shady public works implementors do to skim up on the cost of the filling materials that are actually already funded in the program of works itself. Not only is this illegal practice hazardous to the environment, the consistency of the materials would also be doubtful. The quality and strength of the inner roadwork in this case has already been compromised before the first layer of concrete is laid out.

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