Baker and the Sahara
By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 09, Sharaf 09, 166 BE
More on the Challenge of the Sahara
Richard St.Barbe Baker as a Baha'i
Challenge of the Sahara
In his writings, St. Augustine, who lived in the time of the late Roman Empire quoted a traditional saying: "There is always something new coming out of Africa." You would think that such an ancient observation about the oldest continent would have played itself out by now, but such is not the case. Science magazines have reported over the past few weeks that Africans have discovered and added to their diets a good half-dozen domesticated nuts and fruits from trees previously unknown to agriculture. ("Cinderella fruit: Wild delicacies become cash crops," http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427331.200-cinderella-fruit-wild-delicacies-become-cash-crops.html; New exotic fruit to hit UK shops,http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7506997.stm) This news was especially gratifying to hear as I was reading Richard St. Barbe Baker's Sahara Challenge, the story of a trip across the world's largest desert told by a renowned expert on trees. He explains that the first word for "paradise" or "heaven," was garden, meaning a clearing in the forest where our ancestors grew vegetables, fruits and nuts. To be successful and happy, we have to surround everything with trees, especially our food sources. Trees suck up water from underground, most of which it leaves in the earth around it. In other words, the only antidote to desertification is more and better trees. And it is so wonderful that this continent is still giving us new things, farmers are still discovering new domesticable trees in Africa!
At the beginning of Sahara Challenge, Baker describes what a desert is, a definition that I had never heard, even after all the training I got in High School geography classes. All a desert is is land that has lost its trees. Wind and rain erosion take over as high areas lose their soil and the rocks are exposed. Then the bits of rock that are eroded away fill in the low areas. Soon they are filled with all these little bits broken off, otherwise known as sand. One thing that you get a lot of in lower elevations in deserts is sand. Lots of it. What do you do with it all?
Baker at the start of his trip goes through France, which he finds has the best desert reclamation program he saw anywhere on the expedition. It seems that the Les Landes region is a desert that was being carefully reclaimed by a systematic planting program of selected grasses and trees. No doubt, if France had the same ignorance and lack of direction that governments in North Africa had, it too would be mostly desert by now. Baker notices one major cause of the spread of the Sahara: the goat. A memorable picture in the book shows goats climbing all through the branches of a forlorn desert tree eating every branch and twig on it. If the goats were not such an engrained part of the culture and economy of desert peoples, there probably would not be a Sahara desert. In other words, a people that depends upon goats for sustenance soon becomes a desert culture, whether they plan it or not.
A recent TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/magnus_larsson_turning_dunes_into_architecture.html) describes another innovation being tried out in the Sahara, though it does come from high technology research done by some Western university. I think it may prove to be highly significant for desert reclamation. What they do is take a computer CAD-CAM program and design a structure that they want build out of a sand dune. Any shape you want, you just type it in. Then they dump a special breed of bacteria onto the sand dune. The bacteria go down and solidify exactly the shape you specified, then they die out. The sand becomes sandstone. You take an industrial equivalent to a leaf blower or water hose and blow away all the extraneous sand and you have a building or protective structure where you can either live or plant trees.
This is exactly what I had in mind for the hillside or mound construction proposed in my book-in-progress, "People without Borders." This is what you do as soon as a world parliament is founded: you take giant mound making machines based on the bacterial construction technique that I just described. You take a percentage of the personnel in every military organization in the world, say half or three quarters of them, and send them off into the Sahara and other deserts and let them build these structures and plant trees. Once mounds and tree corridors crisscross the desert, then you are well on the way to complete reclamation. As Baker points out, populating the Sahara alone is the equivalent of discovering an entire new continent. Add on the other deserts and you have a land area equivalent in size to North and South America.
Imagine the effect on history if Europe had not discovered the Americas! Imagine if these two continents just sank into the sea, what a loss that would be for civilization. Okay, there might be some gains, but mostly it would be a loss. And this is exactly what we are doing by neglecting Baker's call to repopulate the world's deserts (actually he was not the first, as he points out in the book; there were proposals dating back several centuries). Since Baker's death in the 1980's, the world is being forced by inexorable global warming to lose a similar massive amount of good land on coastlines around the world. I do not know if it is the equivalent of a continent, but it must be close. And still, with all this pressure, we go on with business as usual and utterly neglect his call to reclaim the deserts!
Anyway, once you have the armies of the world hard at work reclaiming the deserts, you suddenly have a market for all that sand. These former soldiers will learn there how to build structures with sandstone-making bacteria and how to organize and live in the hillside mounds made out of the sandstone products. Then these new experts will be in demand for making similar structures around the world.
At that point we can start building the World Belt, a transportation and power grid including a strip of hillside housing encircling the world. The world parliament will see that this belt is laid from the tip of South Africa to the Middle East, across Asia, to Australia, Europe, and over the Baron Straits right through to the tip of South America. This belt will unite the world in at least three ways: a rapid train, a superconducting power grid supplied by intermittent solar panels and wind turbines, and by the strip of high density, no-environmental impact housing.
As soon as we have established our desert foothold, suddenly there will be a huge export market for sand. Sand will be the most valuable building material pretty much everywhere around the world. Then the residents of the newly tamed Sahara will have a high value commodity to export everywhere else, and TGV trains to export them cheaply. As each city and town on the planet is connected by the world belt, and as people in older constructions start to demand the advantages that hillside housing offers, then the huge demand for sandstone will rapidly eat up the excess sands that keep so much low lying desert land infertile and unusable.
If that happens, the saying that there is always something new coming out of Africa will continue to be the case. Imagine if these new fruits and nuts were planted across the Sahara. Suddenly it would become the world's breadbasket for new and more nutritious food items.
Notes on Richard St.Barbe Baker as a Baha'i
In 1990 the UHJ wrote:
"Just as the (Baha'i) community has extended its ramifications internally, it has also expanded its relations, influence and appeal externally in a variety of ways, some astonishing in their breadth and potential. A few examples will suffice: Through the newly established Office of the Environment, the Baha'i International Community, on its own initiative and in collaboration with other environmental organizations, re-instituted the annual World Forestry Charter Gathering founded in 1945 by the renowned Richard St. Barbe Baker; since then the Office of the Environment has been invited to participate in important events sponsored by international organizations concerned with environmental questions..." (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 147, 1990, p. 2)
This biographical note is included in Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha'i Community, p. 474-475
RICHARD ST. BARBE BAKER, O.B.E., LL.D.,
"On his return from Kenya in 1924 where he had served as Assistant Conservator of Forests since 1920, R. St. Barbe Baker was asked to speak on the faiths of the Kikuyu under the title: "Some African Beliefs" at the 'Conference of Living Religions within the Empire', and was approached afterwards by Claudia Stewart-Coles who exclaimed "You are a Baha'i".
"He subsequently accepted the Faith and has introduced it to many thousands of people in all walks of life in many lands, for more than half a century. The Guardian became the first Life Member of the Men of the Trees in Palestine in 1929. Later, for twelve consecutive years, he sent an official message to St. Barbe's World Forestry Charter Gatherings attended by Ambassadors from up to sixty-two countries each year.
"St. Barbe took an active part on the Committee celebrating the Centenary of the Declaration of the Bab in 1944. After his first Sahara University Expedition carrying out an ecological survey of 9,000 miles in 1953, and in response to the Guardian's desire, St. Barbe attended the First African Conference in Kampala. In 1975 St. Barbe was called upon to advise on tree planting of the site of the Tihran House of Worship in consultation with Quinlan Terry, architect.
"Afterwards, in collaboration with architect Hossein Amanat, he recorded his observations for the Universal House of Justice for the landscaping of their site on Mt. Carmel and for tree-scaping at Bahji. St. Barbe attended the Intercontinental Conference Nairobi, in October 1976 and still (1979) at almost 90 is introducing or teaching the Faith in many lands and would be content to `lay down his bones in service to the Faith' in his beloved Africa."::