Engineering + Imagination = Worthy Of Second Guessing

The Loess plateau, in China, in 2007, left, and transformed into green valleys and productive farmland in 2019. Composite: Rex/Shutterstock/Xinhua/Alamy

The message from Elizabeth Kolbert’s book should sound relevant to you when you read the following:

‘Our biggest challenge? Lack of imagination’: the scientists turning the desert green

In China, scientists have turned vast swathes of arid land into a lush oasis. Now a team of maverick engineers want to do the same to the Sinai

Flying into Egypt in early February to make the most important presentation of his life, Ties van der Hoeven prepared by listening to the podcast 13 Minutes To The Moon – the story of how Nasa accomplished the lunar landings. The mission he was discussing with the Egyptian government was more earthbound in nature, but every bit as ambitious. It could even represent a giant leap for mankind.

Van der Hoeven is a co-founder of the Weather Makers, a Dutch firm of “holistic engineers” with a plan to regreen the Sinai peninsula – the small triangle of land that connects Egypt to Asia. Within a couple of decades, the Weather Makers believe, the Sinai could be transformed from a hot, dry, barren desert into a green haven teeming with life: forests, wetlands, farming land, wild flora and fauna. A regreened Sinai would alter local weather patterns and even change the direction of the winds, bringing more rain, the Weather Makers believe – hence their name.

“If anybody doubts that the Sinai can be regreened,” Van der Hoeven told the Egyptian delegates, an assortment of academics, representatives of ministers and military top brass, “then you have to understand that landing on the moon was once thought unrealistic. They didn’t lay out a full, detailed roadmap when they started, but they had the vision. And step by step they made it happen.”

Van der Hoeven is nothing if not persuasive. Voluble, energetic and down-to-earth, the 40-year-old engineer’s train of thought runs through disciplines from morphology to esoteric mysticism, often threatening to jump the tracks. But he is keenly focused on the future. “This world is ready for regenerative change,” he says. “It’s going to be a complete change of our behaviour as a species in the longer term. It is going to be a step as big as fire was for humanity.”

It sounds impossibly far-fetched, but not only is the Weather Makers’ plan perfectly feasible, they insist, it is precisely the type of project humanity should be getting its head around right now. In recent years, discussion about the climate crisis has predominantly focused on fossil fuels and greenhouse gases; now, we’re coming to realise that the other side of that coin is protecting and replenishing the natural world. There is no better mechanism for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than nature, but in the past 5,000 years, human activity has reduced the Earth’s total biomass by an estimated 50%, and destroyed or degraded 70% of the world’s forests. As UN secretary general António Guterres put it last year: “Human activities are at the root of our descent toward chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.”…

Read the whole article here.

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