We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Terraforming The Sahara Desert

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Sahara desert is almost the size of United States and Europe. Making it arable and livable is the first great infrastructure project of this century.

Funding! ("I'm sure the article proposes something neat but how will we pay for it?!")

Alright alright ye jaded reader, first things first. International Tobin Tax on financial transactions. When working with Tobin Tax rate of 0.1% (as suggested by Nicolas Sarkozy), plenty of funding becomes available for megaprojects, especially those that are fundamentally transnational in nature. Overall amount of financial transactions has steadily been rising to be 70 times the official global GDP ($ 63.12 trillion in 2010). This allows a United Nations body receiving the tax to collect $4.5 trillion annually. That's substantially more than say, nominal GDP of Germany ($3.6 trillion) and the number will increase if Asian financial centers continue to expand to accommodate neighboring growth and to compete with London.

Transforming 9,400,000 sq miles of Sahara desert will increase world's agriculture capable land by 20% and arable land by 70% (if taken to that level). Benefits of terraforming this particular region include:

1) Promoting regional and global cooperation. Helping narrow the Arab North African and Black Central African geographic, cultural, and economic divide. Creating a breadbasket to be shared by over 10 large countries previously polarized by this divide. Thus...

2) Helping consolidate African Union as a political and economic block. Thus...

3) Allowing African Union to become a powerful pole in a multipolar world. A pole that is able to sustain its own population (which is set to double) and to be in a better negotiating position when exchanging natural resources for advanced machinery from other continental unions.  And of course...

4) Wiping out hunger close to its source and creating food export potential for nearby Indian Subcontinent and parts of Asia. Allowing more land to accommodate continent's industrialization and population rise that comes with it. Thus ultimately...

5) Lowering chances of major regional or global wars, reducing chances of imperialism 2.0 on African soil, and creating additional mechanisms necessary for some form planetary governance (that finally brings about world peace and significant reduction in weapon systems expenditures).

Global Political Feasibility

Pushing for a creation of global Tobin Tax (or any transnational tax) collecting body in the UN security council has primarily Britain as an obstacle. Britain has historically relied upon financial parasitism and used various economic and physical pressures against societies that attempt rapid infrastructural development. Small financial centers like Singapore can be browbeat into compliance via combined pressure of the Security Council. Britain can be pressured by making it clear that its soft power projection ability will be severely damaged for decades to come if it obstructs life saving funding mechanisms for transnational projects. It is way past time for majority of the world's population to make it clear to London that it can no longer defy major developmental powers without consequences. Of course Britain, being militarily occupied by United States, can also be pressured in more crude 20th century ways. At the very least, Britain needs to agree to not interfere in transnational infrastructure projects.

Tobin Tax has a more "volunteer" feel to it as opposed to funding global infrastructure projects via direct income taxation by state governments. The popular mood in post financial crash Western world will also increasingly allow for it. That is especially true if the sheer amounts that can be collected are explained by heads of key states. In elite priming magazines like Foreign Affairs we already see a major shift towards open mindedness concerning global experimentation. Some recent examples of mainstream suggestions are global debt jubilee for first world and a call for a hybrid economic post-liberal system (made by Francis Fukuyama of all people). In their desperation to reverse decline, create domestic jobs, and wrestle some leadership from Beijng and Moscow, elites in DC, London, and Paris should be more open towards terraforming. Their countries have the best technologies and talent for it. It also allows them to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to all the incessant harping of global warming.

Even a partial planetary funding mechanism for arable land increase will find eager sponsors in New Dehli and Beijing. Chinese government is already beginning to implement decades long North to South river reversal project as well as efforts to stop and reverse the spread of the Gobi desert. They will have the mass workforce, expertise (quantitative edge versus Western qualitative), and machinery to contribute in Africa for resource swaps. India's interests in helping construct a breadbasket in the Sahara is self explanatory.

Regional Political and Physical Feasibility

Sahara desert region has the least amount of "not in my back yard" mentality, the least amount of people living in the desert's overall periphery, and less potential for great power rivalry hampering the terraforming efforts (as opposed to say, Saudi or Iranian deserts or the Central Asian plains by the Aral Sea). The nation states touching the desert are generally poorly armed and can be collectively pressured to cooperate with sufficient incentives (unfortunately appeals to wipe out hunger on the continent don't work that well). Over 25 countries are directly affected by the Sahara question. Once the process begins, Sub-Saharan African elites may begin to take over and get creative with it (possibly partially being inspired by the way South American societies are collectively getting out from beneath the USA boot.) Nearly double digit GDP growth in many African states over the last decade helps in this regard.

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Governments of North Sudan, Egypt, and Algeria will require projects to keep their youthful populations occupied and will get on board with breadbasketization of their back yards (even if UN/China/India require a certain long term agricultural quota promise in return for the investment funds allocated). Nigeria, the continent's most populous country and a sort of regional superpower, has a chance to really shine as well. The new Libya perhaps has the greatest amount to contribute with its experience of building world class Great Manmade River.

Southern Europe (France/Italy in particular) have an interest in a stable expanding North Africa that provides a market and corporate opportunities rather than refugees and illegal migrants. France will be looking for ways to expand its influence/leadership into the area to compensate for Germany's present and future expansion of influence/leadership in central Europe. It will be proper since Sarkozy was the first Western world leader to talk about the sheer possibilities of global Tobin Tax.

Process (steps should be conducted simultaneously)

1) Arresting the spread of the Sahara by combining and massively augmenting local transnational projects already in process. Even a sliver of Tobin Tax money can dramatically speed up the process of drawing a permanent line in the sand (ha ha) by bringing world class technical personnel, equipment, and desert coordination. This would be the fight against the 1930s Dust Bowl on steroids. Thousands of kilometers of trees (and possibly genetically engineered specialized vegetation) and bacteria hardened dunes  will create a permanent border.

2) Creating ocean fed artificial great lakes (think Lake Nasser supersized) at the furthest extent of sea level parity ground. This will feed rain clouds that travel deeper into the Sahara.

3) Connecting fresh water bodies of Lake Nasser and Lake Chad by a canal to improve economic communication within eastern Sahara region and to bring economic development closer to terraforming zones. The task itself it just 4-5 times the scale of Erie Canal undertaken in early 19th century. Additionally there must be proper understanding and measurement of the enormous quantity of water under the Sahara and making use of it to supply working settlements in Northeastern Sahara.

4) Making use of bacterial dune hardening as canal and artificial lake "edges" to protect new construction from sand and to prevent sand storm formation. Only a fifth of the Sahara has sand dune formation problem and it can be decisively solved via mathematical "cutting" in proper locations. Making use of the Niger river to feed a series of artificial lakes as well in western parts of the desert.

6) Mass introduction of hardy species, fungi, and plants into reclaimed areas to create new ecologies.

The first stages can be summarized as stopping, partially reversing, cutting up, and making Sahara psychologically and physically manageable to humanity. Stages after that will require mass produced small fission reactors to power human advance towards the Tibesti Mountains.

PS: The word terraforming is more marketable than geoforming or geoengineering as it touches on "space race on earth" concept mentioned in the previous article.

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  1. Interesting idea. I believe Mali has made successful efforts with terraforming, of course on a small scale. Terraforming could also lead to more habitat for various animal species from antelope to lions.

  2. I would love to see this done. The whole world would benefit! Well written. Thank you.

  3. many of the worlds low spots like the Sahara and many of the low spots on earth could be filled with rising seas due to Global meltdown. The benefits of massive new salt lakes could create nurseries for sea life to feed the billions, create new revenue while creating new jobs in the U.S. Tourism, creativity in Ocean drainage canals such as creating energy from gravity in drainage. I think cooperation in global funding could create more International friendship. Let us control where the rising waters flow instead of the rising seas swallowing every coastal city on the planet.

  4. If only people could stop dreaming about terraforming Mars and start consider projects such as the one you are describing.

    Notice also that the Sahara is actually just a part of a huge arid zone that stretches beyond the Red Sea until Mongolia.

  5. In Pakistan thar desert is full with coal although quality of those coal is not very good but that is enough resource of energy. World tourists may find something new here so, get immediate flights for pakistan in order to explore new world. i m sure you must be surprised by visiting thar desert.

  6. Mostly tourists like to visit hilly areas for those people i recommend Tear Lake and some of top mountain peaks like naanga parbat, raka poshi, hidden peak etc.

  7. You don't see the confiscation of $4.5 trillion from the global economy annually as having any detrimental effects?!? Let the countries who would benefit fund this.

    1. They're not hording the money. The money would go back out into the world to bring talent, workers, and materials to the project. It would be more likely to stimulate the world economy as long is there isn't gross funds mismanagement. the video on this page sums up the project of the great green wall.

    2. it's good ....//>>
      THAank u soo mcHH<!!

  8. If we talk about Mecca it is also desert based but at the time being it turns into metropolitan city Muslim from all over the world gets cheap umrah packages and stay there for many days to perform umrah some of tem come alone and some of them come with family and they have complete tour.

  9. Hi! Do you somehow test if your own content is unique in the whole blogosphere and there is no such a person who is it without making sure you know about it?

  10. Dumb. Where is the accountability to safe guard against corruption. Shows lack of understanding of law of human nature. Tobin tax with UN into charge? What planet do you live on?

  11. what does it mean by having Britain as an obstacle, that bit about Britain is rubbish. Makes no sense, the rest of it does though. :-)

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. This is not dumb or fantastic. Checkout Some of these technologies are already proven. These projects will be lucrative because you are not harming the environment by growing food in arid areas or harnessing power from sunshine. Once there are few pilot projects around, funded by wise entrepreneurs who will the next billionaires, the money will come pouring in from investors that want to suppy Europe with cheap energy and building materials. Bamboo farms will generate building materials that are renewed fast, and while the bamboo grows remember it is absorbing the global warming gas, CO2. And today, we no longer need solar panels to generate electricity. They have figured out how to make steam from sunshine and that's already working, and that could generate huge amounts of power that can be directly sent to energy hungry countries. Its going to happen sooner than we think, and there is already a lot of money being granted for these pilot projects from the European Union. The population on earth is growing beyond what normal arable or web land can support. It is time to start utilizing the desserts. There is a lot of money to be made there. Maybe finally peace will come to the area.

    All these ideas are not just science fiction, it is here folks. Someone with lots of cash actually built a ski lodge in Dubai! While that seems ludicrous, it is just a sample of what can be accomplished with the right technologies. People have been living near desserts for a long time. The Egyptians knew that to expand they needed to change their environment and a dam was built at one point. But, imagine what would be the result of making the area wet and fertile? The leaders would not have control of those people, they would no longer need the Pharos, right? So, wouldn't it be better to take all those rocks that could have formed a pretty great productive dam and pile them up into three useless pyramids that consumed huge amounts of slave labor and made the people dependent?

    Let's not make this mistake again. The pyramids are there to remind us of the stupidity of politics and power.

  14. And dramatically altering one of the largest contiguous land biomes on earth sounds like a great idea because...?

    Fun fact! Dust from the Sahara desert is blown across the ocean, collecting moisture on its journey and forming large rainstorms. The rainstorms bring water, and the dust (despite what you may believe about desert sand) brings quite a lot of nutrients to the otherwise lousy soil of the Amazon basin. No Sahara desert, no Amazon rainforest. And that's just the FIRST domino. Who knows what comes next?

    1. But, the Sahara or some of it used to be grassland anyway.

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