Throwback Thursday: Our bug-infested megalopolis to be

This is something I wrote in 2014 after reading a very revealing study about what North Carolina might look like in the year 2060. Think a bug-infested wasteland — something like “Blade Runner meets the Andy Griffith Show.” This column actually sparked a Community Connections discussion at Elon.

Here it goes …

blade runner

It’s almost impossible to choose which story was this week’s most terrifying. Let’s see, we had …

— A Gaza cease-fire that quickly and predictably unraveled amid violence.

— At least 25 people killed and 267 injured when several underground gas explosions ripped through Taiwan’s second-largest city, hurling concrete and cars through the air.

— The CDC warned Americans to limit non-essential travel to Ebola nations.

— State GOP bickering sidetracked the coal ash bill.

— CIA employees stopped spying on innocent Americans long enough to actually spy on members of the U.S. Senate.

— Investigators continued to sort through the wreckage of a Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine.

— State lawmakers looked to extend the legislative session past the November elections.

And really, that’s just the past few days. The month of July was so full of potentially soul-numbing global and regional developments that one day two weeks ago during our late afternoon meeting to determine what stories would go in the next day’s newspaper one of our desk editors began with, “The world continues to go to hell . . .”

Needless to say, our meetings are usually more cheerful.

Anyway, while a case could certainly be made that the story about an extended legislative session is the scariest thing seen since the original “Halloween” — after all politicians are at their most dangerous when actually legislating — I read something else that frightened me even more. It was this sentence from a story posted in the Triad Business Journal online:

“An insect-infested megalopolis will stretch from Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060.”


Now, it doesn’t take a licensed cartographer to quickly see what’s in the path of this potential bug-ridden monument to urban sprawl that will supposedly stretch for a few hundred miles of non-stop shopping, housing and fast-food joints. That would be my house, your house, everybody in Alamance County’s house.

Suddenly the possum that sometimes camps on top of the fence in my backyard doesn’t seem so bad after all.

The information for the story came from N.C. State University which took part in a new study in conjunction with the Department of the Interior’s Southeast Climate Science Center. It paints a gloomy picture of the interstate corridor. Supposedly it’ll turn into the kind of area from which dystopian nightmares are born. In fact, this megalopolis could be a possible prequel to the post-apocalyptic world conceived by the creators of comic book / TV drama “The Walking Dead.”

Think “Blade Runner” meets “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Yes, according to scientists at N.C. State we’re riding a bullet train to an ecological nightmare of inestimable proportions by way of sites like Alamance Crossing and University Commons. Natural areas are vanishing quicker than new Waffle Houses are constructed meaning that animals have few places to go. We already seem to hear every day about skirmishes between people and bears, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, deer and … well, possums.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development running from Raleigh to Atlanta, and possibly as far as Birmingham, within the next 50 years,” said N.C. State professor Adam Terando, who helped author the study.

Apparently the Triad is already identified as a “regional powerhouse” in terms of development. It’s one of a dozen in the nation. Ours is known as “Char-lanta” for obvious reasons. It’s described as housing 22 million people and taking in 45 metro areas, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh and Birmingham, Ala. It produces $1 trillion in economic output, which is larger than South Korea’s.

I’m relatively sure that this kind of economic talk makes a lot of folks salivate like one of Pavlov’s mutts. But it all reminds me of Judge Doom in the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” speaking in almost delirious terms as he envisions the inevitable freeway: “I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tire salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.”

So, as economic progress swallows wildlife habitats whole there will be consequences for humans and other species. In fact, it looks like global warming will be a vacation compared to the “Twilight Zone” episode urbanization will be in the southeast.

“In the Southeast U.S., the effects of global warming are expected to be modest compared with many regions, however our results suggest that the effects of urbanization, given business-as-usual will not be,” the study states and suggests that plans for optimizing growth should include a variety of plant and wildlife balanced with development and “cultural desires.”

But the authors add this cautionary note. “However, history suggests humans, in contrast to ants and slime molds, rarely optimize growth, particularly when multiple objectives such as profit, equity, and ecological integrity come into conflict.”

All righty then.

If nothing else, this should give state legislators something work on during their extended sessions.

Now that’s really scary.

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