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.

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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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