Monthly Archives: November 2013

Draining seas, melting the Arctic, rock musicals! Four remarkable geo-engineering projects

1. A Soviet Scheme to melt the north pole

df9e8d1c71597ef2e6e26098c2a60175Many modern proposals for geo-engineering projects aim to prevent the ice caps from melting, but it was not ever thus. In fact, a Russian scientist called Borisov spent his career arguing that melting the Arctic would benefit everyone. His plan was to build a dam across the Bering Straight so that the Arctic would be warmed more by the warmer currents coming in on the jet stream.

His vision wasn’t just an engineering project. Borisov believed that it would be a valuable co-venture between Russia and America. In a 1959 interview he said “When this warming up occurs, and the ice of the cold war melts, broad vistas for teamwork in warming up the eternal ice of the Arctic Ocean will open too.”

This was perhaps prophetic, with the cold war behind us, America and Russia are working together to melt the Arctic. If only unintentionally.

2. A 10,000 kilometer wide illegal plankton bloom

On the other side of the global warming debate, in 2012 a US entrepreneur called Russ George tried to reduce global warming by encouraging the growth of a 10,000 square kilometre plankton bloom off Canada’s west coast. The local indigenous people supported the project because it would increase their fishing stocks. The UN wasn’t so keen. Their concern is that this kind of project could have a long term negative impact on the health of the environment and people in the area.

Only time will tell how projects like this will end up. I suppose we should consider this as an experiment, even if it was potentially an illegal. While we’re waiting to see what the long-term consequences will be, Russ George has produced what could be the world’s first rock musical about plankton ocean fertilisation, called 40 million salmon can’t be wrong.

3. Reclaiming Doggerland

xlg_north_sea_drainageIn September of 1930, there was a ridiculous plan to reclaim the land-bridge between Britain and Europe. This would have created 100,000 square miles of new land, it would also have been thoroughly impossible. It would have involved 450 miles of dams to the north, and they suggested 150 miles of dams in the south, looping around London and Antwerp to keep them open for shipping. River water would have had to be re-routed through a vast canal. This is fortunate for Germany, perhaps as otherwise it’s shipping would have been blocked from the English Channel.

4. Damming the Mediterranean

Weirdly, this project is more reasonable by far than the last one. The plan was the brain child of a german scientist called Herman Sörgel. He was worried that European civilisation would be outperformed by Asia and America, and thought he could avoid this through engineering.

The plan was to build a dam across the straights of Gibralter, harness vast amounts of hydro-electricity, and create 576,000 km squared of new land. The excess water would have been drained into Chad and Congo, and vast hydro-electric dams would have allowed the newly aquatic inhabitants of those countries to produce vast amounts of energy.

Sörgel was an odd man, by modern standards he was a terrible racist, seeing this new land as purely for the benefits of Europe. But he was also a pacifist, and his works were banned by Nazis. On the other hand, in 1938 he did make an attempt to appeal to the Fascist desire for Lebensraum.

The Atlantropa organisation set up to advocate this plan continued to operate until 1960, when it finally disbanded, leaving the Earth’s major landmasses safe from human tempering.

For now, anyway.

What has God got against cities?

An interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the early Bible stories seem to have a really anti-city, pro-nature morality to them. This seems odd given that the text would have been compiled by literate scribes and priests.

For example, Cain was the first farmer, but most famously he was the first murderer. God’s punishment was that nothing Cain planted would grow, so he would have to live as a nomad. Some early translations miss out the bit about Cain having to wander the Earth.  This is understandable, because as well as being a lifelong wanderer and nomad, Cain is credited with building the first city for his son to live in.

A few generations later, a descendent of Cain called Lamech was a murderer and the world’s first recorded polygamist. His children included Jubal, the first musician; Jabal, the nomad; Tubal-Cain the first blacksmith; and Naamah, who is variously described as a mother of monsters, and as wife of Noah. After God flooded the Earth, humans got together to form a new city called Babel under King Nimrod and God destroyed it again. So, the villains of Genesis are the city dwellers, blacksmiths, and Emperors.

Also, it’s worth noting these early sections contain an interesting feature: there’s two branches of Adam’s family tree, and the names of the two families are very similar. For instance, there’s two Lamechs, two Enochs, and the other names are quite similar. Little is written about either branch, so we’re left wandering why they’re there.

The documentary theory offers a possible answer: it states that the first books of the Bible were compiled from various sources, written at different times by different people. One of the sources, the Jahwist source, seems to be responsible for all these anti-city sentiments. The current theory is that this source wasn’t a single text, but represents the folk traditions of the northern areas.

This source contains the myths of Babel, Cain, and Lamech, but not the children of Seth. It skips the first prophet (Enoch), sainted figures like Methusaleh, and Noah’s father Lamech. This would seem to indicate that in this version of the story, Noah’s father was Lamech the blacksmith/tyrant/polygamist.

So, we’re left with a story where human sins constantly take them away from the land, and where redemption seems to involve people like Noah returning to the land. It also gives us the notion that human history a process of decline.

It seems to me that this tradition that saw history as a tragic decline into cities met another tradition that saw history as a set of mythic heroes. As so often happens, two cultures interpreted the same myths radically differently. The Genesis we have seems to be the result of a possibly politically motivated compromise.

This is enticing because it makes Bible history cyclical. The Bible was codified, and then various other texts were added to it, then it was codified again in the Roman Empire. Since then, schisms and different interpretations have continued endlessly.

If we accept this, then people who embellish or add to the Bible are carrying out an important function that may have helped strengthen and spread this religious tradition. They’re finding new meanings in old myths.

For instance, the Mormons have written comparatively large amounts about Cain’s City of Enoch, but as occasional city dwellers they gave it an counter-weight to it called Zion, which was founded by Enoch the prophet. Better yet, they had it raised into the heavens before the flood, and some argued the the tower of Babel was built by people trying to reach it.

This is a great way to embellish the story. I hope the next time some civilisation tries to codify the Bible, they include these kinds of Mormon sources.