There are bridges built during the time of the ancient Roman Empire that are still in operation. Here in New England there are perfectly functional wooden covered bridges that date back to Colonial times. Modern steel and concrete bridges are crumbling and and falling apart. Progress?
That's just one example. Did you know a lot of new buildings are being constructed with only a 15 year life expectancy? The thought is that at the end of that time it'll be torn down and something else built in its place. Sadly, a lot of those "temporary" buildings are still around past their disposal date, and getting uglier every year.
Strange to think how such shabbily constructed buildings have 30 year loans.. After the 2008 housing bubble burst there were a lot of unsold buildings. I watched one development in Florida fall apart, almost in front of my else. Not long after the air conditioning was turned off the humidity started working on the buildings. Within 6 months the siding fell off the houses. The wafer board walls absorbed water, got soft, and could not hold onto the siding fasteners. Those buildings went from new to garbage without anyone actually ever living in them.
So why all the waste? It's the way the economy is designed. It's been said that our economy works on a constant growth model. If the economy does not grow, the interest on debts cannot be paid. Everything collapses. A part of that growth is not really growth at all. It's money and energy used to replace all the shoddy crap that's falling apart.
It's an amazing system. In a relatively short period of time it's produced enough waste that the oceans are full of plastic junk. All that junk was produced using energy and materials from non renewable resources.
So we have a systems that must infinitely grow, using finite resources, and which produces much ugliness and trash along the way. It's obvious this can't go on, and anything that can't, won't. So why isn't anyone who's in charge doing anything about it? Why should they? The present system is what put them in power. Then don't want to change it. They want to keep it going, at all costs, for as long as possible.
So that's how we get crap bridges that fall apart, and a whole host of other ills. The problem isn't technical. We could easily build stainless steel or composite bridges that could last at least as long as Roman bridges. Instead of wasting resources fixing and replacing things we could move on to other projects. Our finite resources could be used for durable things rather than cheap short lived crap.
Great, but how do we get the people in power to all such a transformation to way things are done. Theoretically, in democratic societys they just get voted out of office and replaced by people who are not so vested in the old system. Otherwise things reach a point where the vast majority pay huge costs for a system that benefits a tiny few. When things get bad enough either one or two things happen.
Did you ever wonder why Central and South America are full such impressive ruins? Sure, some places fell victim to the invading Europeans. However, other cities were abandoned. It's entirely possible that things got so bad that people just wandered off into the jungle. That's a pretty reasonable response to a civilization that imposes huge costs to the general population and no benefits.
The second option ends violently for the tiny elite -strung up by their guts on lamp posts ugly.
So the next time you have to drive across a rickety pot holed bridge, think about how we got to where we are and to where we are going.