Friday, May 14, 2010

DWG Goal One

DWG Goal One

Desert Reclamation; The First Goal of a World Federation

Précis: One third of the land from space looks grey and brown because it is desert. We should take this as a challenge and colonize the deserts. A world continental federation would make this a political possibility. Desert Reclamation and colonization should therefore be its first goal.

Desert Reclamation; The First Goal of a World Federation

2010 May 14, Revised May 15

Here is draft four of the next chapter in People Without Borders

Earth From Space

Most of Earth's surface area is ocean. As a result, it looks blue from a distance in space. Zoom in closer on our planet and land becomes visible. Green, fertile land regions turn up green, while deserts are a greyish brown. A surprisingly large amount of the land mass is greyish brown, not green. Two lines of brown circle the planet like thick belts, one north of the equator and the other south, comprising in total one third of the land surface. This is caused by heated air at the equator rising high in the atmosphere, where it dries out, cools, and then drops back to earth. The result is a grey-brown desert. One consequence of a place being a desert is especially apparent at night. When the sun sets, green regions are lit up completely, but grey-brown regions are completely black, showing that they are all but unpopulated.

This is not to say that deserts are devoid of life. Some deserts in Australia and Mexico sustain deceptively diverse ecosystems, even rivalling the rain-forests in variety of species, if not in biomass. The largest desert, the Sahara, is known to have supported forests and agriculture in historical times, parts even in living memory. But relentless global warming is accelerating desertification. The circular wind currents around the equator become stronger and the super-dry down-currents desiccate what little water was available to desert regions. Lakes both above and below the surface evaporate in the unrelenting heat. Green, forested regions shrink and temperate areas get less temperate.

The challenge of re-greening the earth's arid regions is daunting, in some ways almost as hard as colonizing the moon. Deserts have a small population with an overabundance of land. The Sahara alone has more land surface than North and South America combined. However, their residents are in a bind. They cannot farm because topsoil requires ample plant cover, especially trees, or it will blow away. And if they do not farm or plant, desertification will spread even faster until entire continents will lose the ability to support agriculture. Meanwhile, constant wind erosion over rocky desert regions creates mountains of sand which the wind carries away in huge toxic plumes, blocking the sun and causing illness thousands of miles away.
Forestry expert Richard St. Barbe Baker travelled across the Sahara several times in the 1950's and 1960's studying the possibility of colonizing the world's largest desert. He wrote,

"I Believe that the blossoming desert foretold by the prophets of old is now being fulfilled by the steady reclamation of the Sahara. This should be the scientific answer to the world's dilemma for it will provide a one-world purpose unifying East and West." (Richard St.Barbe Baker, Earth Charter,

Baker in his journeys across the Sahara found some governments making progress in the fight against the desert, and others whose neglect was making it worse. He determined that by planting large numbers of trees we could alter the climate and soil to make the entire region habitable. Recent studies have confirmed that systematic tree planting in coastal regions would make the climate of the interior wetter.

However, as St. Barbe Baker found out, the greatest difficulties facing those who would colonize the deserts is not physical but political, cultural, religious and educational. This was especially true in the Sahara. The ugliness and desolation of the Sahara keeps it empty. Few potential colonizers regard it as a desirable place to be, regardless of its potential wealth. But the human equation is even worse. National borders block mass migration. Cultural divisions worsen when resources get scarcer. War breaks out. According to some reports, the U.N. and the U.S. considered a peacekeeping force in Darfur, but they calculated that it would be impossible to fly in enough water to support a force of 60,000 troops. Yet millions of local residents there somehow scrape together enough resources to survive.

It is tempting to take a defeatist attitude and imagine that climate cannot be changed. True, it takes a generation or two, but climates can and do change. They have been changed throughout history. Global warming is caused by neglect, by many errors that are changing the world's climate for the worse. But the good news is that we now know more than ever before how to change climate for the better.

The deserts are far from being recognized as the property and heritage of all humankind. Nonetheless, heads are being turned in Europe by the stupendous wealth of sunlight in the Sahara. The flood of solar energy pounding down on it could be exploited by vast arrays of reflectors, solar generating stations and photovoltaic panels. Long distance power lines could be built to carry almost unlimited electric power to populous, developed places.

The formation of a comprehensive world government would instantly tear down most of these mental and bureaucratic barriers and change people's attitudes from defeatism to hope. Public opinion would be guided towards answering such challenges. Large numbers of experts would turn their energy to reforestation, climate engineering and other mega-projects designed to reclaim this vast wasteland. Once the technical problems are overcome, millions of ordinary people would flow in seeking a better life.

This challenge would attract people from everywhere, but most would surely come from the slums and favelas of large cities in poor countries, where over a billion people live in crowded, sub-standard housing with no infrastructure. The colonization of the deserts, supervised by the continental sub-federations of a world government, would be the first step to making the entire land surface of the globe into a brilliant green.


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