Trump’s “beautiful wall” vs. America’s ugly infrastructure

America’s infrastructure is a mess. Whether you live in a city, a suburb, a small town, a village, or a rural area, you don’t need to go far to see the neglect and deterioration of our shared public spaces. Roads and bridges are crumbling. The country’s railroad system is lagging decades behind the technological modernization that’s been underway for years across Europe and Asia. The power grid is all too susceptible to winds, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding, and thunderstorms. The terrifying effects of climate change are real and present. Planning for sea-rise flooding in coastal cities and communities is more than four decades behind where it could have been had the fossil-fuel companies not engaged in a successful, multi-million-dollar campaign to hoodwink the American public about the reality of the connection between global warming and fossil fuels.

Misplaced priorities

With all of the dire infrastructure needs and climate-change effects threatening the future of the planet and the country’s national security, what is the current priority for large-scale projects our taxpayer dollars will be paying for in the near future?  We all know the answer. Look no further than the glint in Donald Trump’s eyes when he pontificates about his “beautiful” wall. Tragically, the building of the wall is becoming more than just a vanity project. The Trump administration recently announced its intention to divert an additional $7.2 billion from the military budget to build Trump’s wall at the southern border. Add that $7.2 billion to the $3.6 billion already diverted, and you come up with an eye-bulging price tag of $10.8 billion that might be used to build a fence or steel slats or a wall—or some unknown combination that’s being kicked around in the White House on any given day.

Not addressing the real crises

Set aside for a moment doubts about the necessity for America’s bloated and often wasteful military budget, because, according to Military Times, of the $7.2 billion, $3.7 billion had been designated for sorely needed infrastructure improvements to outdated facilities on military bases, like training centers and schools. The balance, another $3.5 billion, had been earmarked to increase counter-drug operations. Would anyone doubt that that’s a worthy investment when you consider the number of drug-related deaths due in large part to illegally produced fentanyl? In 2019 alone, there were more than 70,000 Americans who died from drug-related causes and overdoses. That’s not a delusion of desperate families and refugees taking over America. That’s a real crisis.

$24.4 million per mile

To put the cost of building the border barrier in perspective, consider what the cost per mile might be. In January of 2019, the Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to Congress outlining that $5.7 billion could pay for about 234 miles of a new steel barrier along the 2,000-mile southern border. That means that in 2019 dollars, the cost of the construction of a steel-slatted barrier (not a concrete wall) would be $24.4 million per mile. And that number doesn’t even take into account typical construction-cost overruns, earth moving, or short- and long-term maintenance costs.

Border barrier versus sustainable energy

Here’s the question. To what better use could the cost of just one mile of border barrier that’s being touted as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist be spent for a problem that does? Here’s an example of how our taxpayer dollars might be used more effectively to address a real crisis—the necessity to create sustainable energy on a large scale in order to prevent the most dire effects of a warming planet.

Here are the facts. Installing solar panels on a residential building in the U.S. costs, on average, $15,000 per home after tax rebates. That means that for the cost of one mile of border barrier, 1,626 buildings—or all of the buildings in the two contiguous villages where I reside in Columbia County, New York, plus every farm in the county could be solarized. Imagine for a moment the volume of electricity that could be fed back into the grid from solar panels on 1,626 buildings. And take another moment to reflect on what it could mean in long-term cost savings for individuals, families, businesses, farmers, and municipalities in just one county to become energy self-reliant. Now zoom out and reflect on how the total cost of construction of a 234-mile barrier (which, by the way, leaves approximately 1,800 miles of unprotected border) could solarize 700,020 homes—or all of the homes in the Upstate New York cities of Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo.

Border barrier versus a future of sustainable energy—which one would get your vote?