China is building another great wall — of trees. To hold back the desert.

As of this writing, the Gobi Desert in northern China/southern Mongolia is about half a million square miles (1.3 million km2) in area.

Yes, that's “as of this writing" — because the Gobi Desert is growing.

Due to something called “desertification," about 1,400 square miles (3,600 km2) of China's otherwise arable land is turned into desert each year, as the Gobi creeps further and further south.


To make matters worse, winds often pick up the sand, blowing it toward the densely populated areas in China, resulting in immense dust storms. (Here's a picture of a car windshield after Beijing's 2006 dust storm season.)

The desert in China is expanding — kinda rapidly, too. Image by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images.

But China is fighting back. With trees.

In 2001, the BBC reported on what has been called, colloquially, the "Great Green Wall," a not-so-subtle reference to the Great Wall of China, but this "wall" is being made of trees.

The wall is part of a decades-long afforestation project that began in 1978 but isn't expected to be completed until 2050, and it hopes to ultimately make areas currently too arid for habitation or agriculture into fertile homes to both.


A tree-planting exercise on the edge of the Gobi Desert in 2007. Image by Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images.

One of the early phases was a forced participation drive — in 1981, China passed a law that required its citizens over the age of 11 to plant three to five trees each year — but in 2003, the country turned toward government works.

The Great Green Wall plan called for the creation of a 2,800 mile-long (4,480 km) belt of trees along the Gobi's border.

As Wired reported a year later, this was no small task:

"To build the wall, the government has launched a two-pronged plan: Use aerial seeding to cover wide swaths of land where the soil is less arid and pay farmers to plant trees and shrubs in areas that require closer attention. A $1.2 billion oversight system, consisting of mapping and land-surveillance databases, will be implemented. The government has also hammered out a dust-monitoring network with Japan and Korea."


A photographer looks out over the trees at the encroaching desert. Image by Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images.

Whether it's working, though, is another question.

One Chinese news agency, citing the State Forest Administration, reported in 2007 that "more than 20 percent of the lands affected by desertification in the project areas have been harnessed and soil erosion has been put under control in over 40 percent of the areas that used to suffer soil erosion in the past."

And in 2014, the Daily Mail echoed these results, reporting that "a study says the measures are working, despite previous criticism."

However, that same year, the Economist noted that many of the trees are withering in the dry, hot conditions and concluded the opposite.

Finally, there's the middle ground, which the BBC reported in 2011: The afforestation process is working — but it'll take 300 years to reclaim the lands the Gobi has already taken.

Either way, China intends to push forward. Given its original timetable, they have 35 years left to figure it out.

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know ("Learn Something New Every Day, By Email"). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

True

$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


The recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only marked the end of an illustrious life of service to law and country, but the beginning of an unprecedented judicial nomination process. While Ginsburg's spot on the Supreme Court sits open, politicians and regular Americans alike argue over whether or not it should be filled immediately, basing their arguments on past practices and partisan points.

When a Supreme Court vacancy came up in February of 2016, nine months before the election, Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell refused to even take up a hearing to consider President Obama's pick for the seat, arguing that it was an election year and the people should have a say in who that seat goes to.

Four years later, a mere six weeks before the election, that reasoning has gone out the window as Senate Republicans race to get a nominee pushed through the approval process prior to election day. Now, they claim, because the Senate majority and President are of the same party, it makes sense to proceed with the nomination.

Keep Reading Show less
True

$200 billion of COVID-19 recovery funding is being used to bail out fossil fuel companies. These mayors are combatting this and instead investing in green jobs and a just recovery.

Learn more on how cities are taking action: c40.org/divest-invest


Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has become a beloved voice of reason, knowledge, and experience for many Americans on social media the past few years. At 88, Rather has seen more than most of us, and as a journalist, he's had a front row seat as modern history has played out. He combines that lifetime of experience and perspective with an eloquence that hearkens to a time when eloquence mattered, he called us to our common American ideals with his book "What Unites Us," and he comforts many of is with his repeated message to stay "steady" through the turmoil the U.S. has been experiencing.

All of that is to say, when Dan Rather sounds the alarm, you know we've reached a critical historical moment.

Yesterday, President Trump again refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power after the election when directly asked if he would—yet another democratic norm being toppled. Afterward, Rather posted the following words of wisdom—and warning—to his nearly three million Facebook fans:


Keep Reading Show less

"Very nice!" It appears as though Kazakhstan's number one reporter, Borat Sagdiyev, is set to return to the big screen in the near future and the film's title is a sight to behold.

Reports show that the title submitted to the Writer's Guild of America, "Borat: Gift Of Pornographic Monkey To Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence To Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation Of Kazakhstan" is even longer than the first film's, "Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan."

As the title suggests, the film is expected to feature an encounter with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as well as President Trump's TV lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Keep Reading Show less