Roadways are one of the best examples of how civilization can paradoxically both give and take away. The millions of road miles that crisscross our planet have greatly enabled the mobility of people and goods, but they also have impacted the DNA of wildlife, are a major contributor to climate change and create a significant amount of noise pollution. In Crossings: How Road Ecology is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, Ben Goldfarb (Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter) confronts this conundrum head-on, like an 18-wheeler barreling down an interstate. As he states, “North America and Europe constructed their road networks with little regard for how they would affect nature and even less comprehension of how to blunt those effects.”
Organized into three sections: “Killer on the Road,” “More than a Road” and “The Roads Ahead,” Crossings is a comprehensive guide that uncovers the many different factors that led to global road transportation systems and their continued impact. Goldfarb’s synopsis includes lots of important dates and statistics, such as how “between 1807 and 1880 the U.S. Army carved twenty-one thousand miles of roads through prairies, forests and mountains, cracking open America’s interior to mail delivery and agriculture” and the history behind terminology coined as roads became mainstream such as “Sunday drivers,” “road hogs,” “juggernauts” and “flivverboobs” (inconsiderate motorists).
Through commentary from experts such as ecologists, biologists, historians and government officials, Goldfarb examines the severe impact of roads on wildlife populations and their migration and reproduction, causing localized extinctions of reptiles and amphibians and disruptions among mountain lion populations known as “genetic drift.” He also goes into great detail explaining the game-changing significance of deer collisions, which have made deer North America’s most dangerous wild animal, and discusses roadway interference outcomes noted by researchers, such as the wildlife patterns changed by traffic noise.
Now embedded in human culture, roads have contributed to major change, a fact made blatantly evident through Goldfarb’s extensive research and analysis. Roads aren’t going away anytime soon, but Crossings will spark conversation around the future of motorized vehicles and transportation in general.