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.”