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Climate change has a profound impact on infrastructure, posing an acute economic risk. Transportation and electrical infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and rising temperatures because of the damaging effect of heat and extreme weather. Freshwater supply infrastructure will also be affected as storms destroy irrigation and filtration systems. Lower-income communities tend to be less prepared for infrastructure failure and face reduced healthcare access and food security. Rural communities are also more likely to be affected by the obstruction of access to infrastructure during these times, while urban communities withstand a higher likelihood of flood and storm damages.

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Charlotte Walsh

It is easy to overlook much of climate change’s effects, but the global crisis has consequences that seep into nearly every pore of everyday life. Climate change’s multitude of effects on infrastructure are overlooked since the infrastructure itself is often overlooked. Infrastructure is a multifaceted issue, with intersecting aspects such as electricity, irrigation, and transportation. Nonetheless, the effects of these climate change-driven attacks on infrastructure are detrimental and cannot be underestimated. 

Transportation Infrastructure

Though transportation is an essential contributor to climate change, it is also affected by the crisis. Many facilities such as roads, subways, and bus terminals are in flood zones, and thus are put at risk when climate change results in extreme, erratic weather. Floods and storms have accounted for 71% of all natural disasters since 1990, and total annual amounts of natural disasters have increased tenfold between 1960 and 2019. Along with this, bridges also require attention after withstanding the conditions resulting from the climate breakdown. Typically, bridges are built to last for about a century, but older bridges cannot handle these new conditions. Yet even working to strengthen these bridges against the changing climate is not a foolproof strategy. The extreme temperatures, bush fires, and higher flood levels and velocities can put bridges in danger of being lost or destroyed. 

There are solutions to this issue that are being developed, such as new building codes, allowing bridges to survive under the dangers presented by the conditions of climate change. If enacted, these building codes would effectively increase the longevity of new bridges, prevent the loss of older bridges, and thus make bridges safer. Engineers are also evaluating and assessing new ways to help preserve older bridges that are both environmentally sustainable and cost-effective. 

Water Infrastructure

Irrigation and water networks are also victims of the climate crisis. Water networks are affected by varying precipitation, especially since studies have concluded that irrigation is at risk when the typical precipitation rates are disturbed. Increased precipitation can result in a subsequent increase in soil runoff and infrastructure damage when floods destroy piping systems and storage facilities while overflowing sewer systems, resulting in the spread of contaminated water. Decreased precipitation can also result in water contamination, since insufficient water leads to inadequate sewage flow and blockages, which can cause sewers to rupture. In companionship with higher temperatures of air and water, decreased precipitation also contributes to quicker evaporation and asset corrosion. 

As the sea levels rise, there is a noticeable saltwater intrusion into groundwater aquifers and distribution networks, limiting water availability and quality. The inaccessibility of high-quality water would affect many groups, as groundwater is used in homes, businesses, and industries, including crop irrigation and mining facilities, and livestock. Furthermore, these lower-quality inputs to water treatment systems demand higher maintenance and repair costs, which ultimately increase overall infrastructure costs. 

Aviation Industry

The unstable weather caused by climate change also creates problems for the aviation industry, as inconsistent weather generates turbulent flights. Airports are often built in coastal areas to maximize favorable wind conditions, but the demand for coastal conditions presents an issue of flood risks in a changing climate. Moreover, rising temperatures make lifting off more difficult for planes because the increased temperatures make the air denser, reducing the lift force on aircraft wings. Even worse, slowing wind patterns decreases the headwind of an aircraft, increasing a plane’s takeoff distance. If there is no room for a longer runway, as in many airports, airlines are forced to reduce capacity on their planes.

Electrical Infrastructure

The acceleration of global heating and the problems associated with this crisis have also affected the electrical system of the United States. In recent years, extreme natural disasters such as ice storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves have become incredibly common, making the electric grid more vulnerable. The American Society of Civil Engineers has even given the country’s electrical infrastructure a C- grade, citing its dependence on a complicated, “aging” system, “far past [its] 50-year life expectancy,” emphasizing that “others, including 70% of transmission and distribution lines, are well into the second half of their lifespans” (American Society of Civil Engineers 2021, 45). Most of the power generation facilities, distribution lines, and transmission lines were built in the 1950s and 1960s, roughly seven decades ago. During that time, engineers did not expect the unstable environment we live in today. 

From 2003-2012, millions of American homes and businesses faced power outages. These outages were mostly caused by damaged substations, lower-level distribution lines, and transmission lines. They are estimated to have cost billions of dollars per year. Moreover, the weather events have also impacted the physical infrastructure. Frequent droughts reduce the water supplies for hydroelectric dams and fossil fuel plants. High winds break the wooden poles that hold up distribution lines, while floods damage ground-level and underground electrical equipment, and intense heat can overwhelm the capacity of transmission lines, subsequently decreasing the efficiency of power plants. The national electrical grid is a delicate system, and changes in the production rates risk its complete downfall. 

Grid modernization has become necessary to strengthen infrastructure and the system overall by upgrading and replacing facilities. There has also been an increased push toward implementing protective measures for electrical equipment at risk of storm damage, such as elevating or relocating electrical equipment, burying transmission and distribution underground, and upgrading transmission structures. Advocates of the expensive yet necessary grid modernization have also suggested new strategies and technologies that will help infrastructure withstand the harsher weather conditions and renewable energy sources. 


Infrastructure failure would be detrimental to many different people. The shortcomings of electrical infrastructure during natural disasters present various issues. Following Hurricane Sandy, dialysis patients were left in crisis after many healthcare facilities were not entitled to energy backup systems that could provide for them. Many low-income households cannot afford backup power in the event of a crisis. Outages from natural disasters such as the 1998 Canadian ice storm prevented citizens from purchasing food from local stores. Power outages would especially affect the elderly, who may live in high-rise buildings or depend on the usage of home ventilators and other medical devices. Lower-income communities tend to be less prepared for infrastructure failure and face reduced healthcare access and food security. Rural communities are also more likely to be affected by the obstruction of access to infrastructure during these times, while urban communities withstand a higher likelihood of flood and storm damages.


American Society of Civil Engineers. 2021. “Energy.” In 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, 44–54.

“Aviation Industry Reducing Its Environmental Footprint.” n.d. Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders.

Garschagen, Matthias, and Simone Sandholz. 2017. “Linking Critical Infrastructure Resilience to Social Vulnerability through Minimum Supply Concepts: Review of Gaps and Development of an Integrative Framework.” Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Sciences, October, 20.

“Groundwater Use in the United States.” 2018. Water Science School, U.S. Geological Survey. June 18, 2018.

Hayward, Justin. 2022. “Will Rising Temperatures Impact Aircraft Takeoffs?” Simple Flying. June 6, 2022.

“Increase in Natural Disasters on a Global Scale by Ten Times.” 2020. Vision of Humanity. October 27, 2020.

Low, Luisa. 2019. “How Climate Change Impacts Infrastructure: Experts Explain.” The University of Sydney. November 27, 2019.

Moore, Andrew. 2021. “Lights Out: How Climate Change Could Plunge America into Darkness.” College of Natural Resources News (blog). March 8, 2021.

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