Guest CliFi by Gregory J. Rummo
Laayoune, Western Sahara
February 16, 2025 – on my birthday in the not-too-distant future
A cool, slightly fragrant breeze gently blows across my cheek as we look out over a lush, verdant landscape of low-growth Madagascar vanilla vines and coconut palms planted neatly in rows as far as the eye can see in every direction. Their delicate fronds, swaying in the breeze, form a dense, green curtain, obscuring from our view the tens of thousands of acres of sorghum, soy and corn until another planting of coconut palms repeats the patchwork.
Poultry farms, also hidden from our view, dot the tropical oasis.
Canals glisten in the sun, carrying their precious cargo of water from one of the four desalination plants in Laayoune on the north-western coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” Brahim Ghali says in a soft voice.
President Ghali has returned to his home in Laayoune after spending much of his adult life as president-in-exile of Western Sahara otherwise known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), running a government from the Sahrawi refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria.
“The ancient scrolls speak about this region once being a garden,” he says, which brings a smile to my face.
He knows the story, I think. And we’ve finally gotten ourselves back to the garden.
It has taken an enormous effort to get to this point. Uniting the Arab countries of Western Sahara, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria as members of the African Union was no small political ordeal. And we have only just begun. There is still much more to accomplish.
It was just three years ago when I first proposed the Northern Sahara Terraforming Project to a consortium of concerned government leaders, over 30 CEOs of multinationals from various industries and a half-dozen progressive thinkers with deep pockets – and I mean progressive in the sense of progress, not socialism. This latter group wanted no part in the project for the simple reason that if the issue of climate change were resolved, they’d be out of work.
We met on Grand Bahama Island at the Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach Resort—not the first place one would think such a meeting of the world’s richest and smartest people would take place. Nonetheless, I chose this as the meeting place as a fitting reminder of why we were here: It was only six years earlier in 2019 that Hurricane Dorian, the most “intense tropical cyclone on record to strike the Bahamas,” made landfall in this part of the world. And Dorian was still regarded as the “worst natural disaster in The Bahamas’ recorded history.”
Among the participants were Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and Sir Richard Branson, whose $25million reward to “save the Earth,” provided the seed capital to propel the idea forward. Twenty-four leaders from their respective countries were also in attendance as were the CEOs from the seven largest multi-national oil and gas corporations, known as the Seven Sisters, the 15 largest forestry companies, the ten largest construction companies the five largest agricultural companies and six of the ten largest US poultry companies.
We dubbed it the “G-24 Summit to Save the Earth.”
Everyone spoke. All listened intently. There were no arguments, only productive discussions—a major accomplishment in itself given that 24 countries were represented. There were no bombastic monologues delivered by crowd-pleasing politicians meant to garner a few juicy soundbites in front of a TV camera for their constituents back home. It was clear from the beginning that we were all here to solve a problem that has vexed the best scientists for decades while affecting the Earth and its population of seven billion.
When it was my turn to speak, I had the lights in the conference room dimmed and shared on the screen a montage of movie clips including “Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan,” which featured a terraforming device called the Genesis Device, and a more serious take on the many challenges in space exploration beyond the Moon discussed by scientists in a 45-minute documentary entitled “The Universe, Colonizing Space.”
As the lights came up, I began my talk.
“The literature – almost all of it in the genre of science fiction – has been describing terraforming since the early 1940s. The current and very popular Amazon original TV series “The Expanse,” based on the novels of the same name by James S. A. Corey, takes place in the future when Mars has been terraformed and the outer planets colonized.
Ladies and gentlemen—we have been dreaming about terraforming for almost 80 years. I think this is more than just science fiction. When so many people from many different parts of the world have been thinking and dreaming and writing about the same concept for almost a century I am led to believe that this is not mere coincidence but a God-given vision for our own planet. The question is this: Are we willing to believe it? And are we willing to act on it?”
At this point there was considerable chatter in the room and I was expecting some pushback after I mentioned the word God. Anticipating this, I added, “But despite your belief or non-belief in religion, clearly I think you would all agree that all of us share the commonality as being citizens of planet Earth and we all have a moral responsibility to be the Earth’s stewards not just for the sake of the planet but for the sake of and well-being of the planet’s inhabitants.”
“Hear hear!” Sir Branson shouted enthusiastically as the room erupted into polite applause.
I waited for the applause to die down and continued,
“I realize we are talking about an almost unimaginably huge project to terraform a large portion of the Northern Sahara into an oasis. It will be an expensive, logistical challenge. We will need trees—lots of trees—and grasses and other plants and of course water—lots of it. We will need to construct several desalination plants along the western coastal region to provide the water for irrigation. As the terraforming project spreads eastward, another construction project to divert water from the Nile River would provide the necessary irrigation for that area of the northern Sahara spanning its eastern boundaries. The economies of all countries within the Sahara’s borders: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia would benefit greatly.
Hundreds of thousands of acres of what was once desert would be converted into growing regions for grain and the raising of poultry to feed the world’s ever-growing population.
And the two greatest, long-term benefits to our planet would be that by terraforming a large portion of the Sahara into a green oasis, we would create a huge, natural, photosynthetic sponge, recycling billions of tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide while cooling off an ecosystem that currently provides the radiative heat energy that generates destructive Atlantic hurricanes.”
At the end of the five-day summit, we agreed to draft a document called the “World Alliance Declaration for the Stewardship of the Earth.” The document recognized that the project would take a decades-long commitment of trillions of dollars, not just from wealthy individuals and multi-national corporations but also from the governments of the world.
Future rewards would justify the investment in both the near term and for generations to come. It was estimated that tens of millions of jobs would be created in regions of the developing world still struggling to live above the poverty line.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide would be buffered by photosynthesis, allowing the continued, prudent use of clean fossil fuels.
And yes—man would actually have achieved something thought impossible even by most atmospheric scientists—we would have effectively controlled the weather!
As a pragmatic scientist, I am always thinking of ways to solve problems. Problem solving is, after all, the end of critical thinking. But just as some of the science fiction of late 19th – early 20th century writers like Jules Verne, George Orwell and Ray Bradbury have become our 21st century science reality, could not terraforming the Sahara Desert be more than just a pipe dream? In a world where warring factions have killed one another over a patch of sand and capitalist, multi-national corporations are at odds with socialist-leaning governments, can we really expect a “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” zeitgeist to prevail on the Earth? Consider this: Although Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and were the dominant force until being finally driven out of Spain by Roman Catholics in 1492, there were amazing periods during these seven centuries of la conviviencia, the Spanish word for coexistence, among Jews, Muslims and Roman Catholics that allowed for a “huge interplay of cultural ideas.” As an eternal optimist, I am cautiously hopeful.