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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.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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Hold on, Frankie! Mama's coming!

How do you explain motherhood in a nutshell? Thanks to Cait Oakley, who stopped a preying bald eagle from capturing her pet goose as she breastfed her daughter, we have it summed up in one gloriously hilarious TikTok.

The now viral video shows the family’s pet goose, Frankie, frantically squawking as it gets dragged off the porch by a bald eagle—likely another mom taking care of her own kiddos.

Wearing nothing but her husband’s boxers while holding on to her newborn, Willow, Oakley dashes out of the house and successfully comes to Frankie's rescue while yelling “hey, hey hey!”

The video’s caption revealed that the Oakleys had already lost three chickens due to hungry birds of prey, so nothing was going to stop “Mama bear” from protecting “sweet Frankie.” Not even a breastfeeding session.

Oakley told TODAY Parents, “It was just a split second reaction ...There was nowhere to put Willow down at that point.” Sometimes being a mom means feeding your child and saving your pet all at the same time.

As for how she feels about running around topless in her underwear on camera, Oakley declared, “I could have been naked and I’m like, ‘whatever, I’m feeding my baby.’”

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