There would be a lot of short-term benefits to this idea but I would guess that in the long run it would be worse. The biggest problem with paved areas is that pollution goes directly into the nearest river/lake/ocean. In a natural water system, pollutants are ‘filtered’ by soil and often trapped underground before seeping into rivers. Rain on a mountain can take up to 100 years to get to the ocean. Water on a road is swept within minutes to a sewer that takes it to a river or lake.
Having no paved areas would mean that the water cycle becomes much more natural again. However, I do think that it would become a problem in the long term. For the first few years it might be fun to drive on dirt roads. After a while the roads would become full of pot-holes and washboards. People would start buying more SUV’s and trucks to get around. If everyone bought a truck, the United States would use at least 50ish percent more gas than it does not. People would have to slow down on freeways so they don’t crash, which means they would get much worse MPG’s. Roads in wet places would soon flood for much of the year and major irrigation rework would need to take place. We would start using a huge amount of gravel which means that we would need to mine huge areas of land.
In total I don’t think that it would be worse for the environment if we did away with all paved surfaces.
In theory, dirt roads could allow more water to be soaked back into the earth and raise the water table. But they would be constantly rutted, washed out, “washboarded”, and needs lots of energy to maintain.
Any efforts to tear up all the paved roads would probably require massive machinery and fuel, and then the slabs of pavement would have to be hauled somewhere and probably ground up. An interesting idea, but I suspect other measures could do more good for the environment.
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