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6/27/2014
10:11 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Geekend: The Great Wall Of Oz

Can giant walls stop tornadoes and bring an economic boost to the Midwest?

to stop the tornadoes, it could conceivably take 1,000 miles of walls. Assuming the walls are the same length as the mountains, the total cost, at $160 million per mile of the wall, would be $186.9 billion. That amount isn't inconceivable, but it represents 10 times the annual budget of FEMA. Sure, if you could guarantee there'd be no need for FEMA after building these walls it makes sense, but this is only one of many of FEMA's responsibilities.

And there may be an even bigger reason not to do it. Citizens of the Great Plains know more than anyone what man can do to change an environment for the worse. The Dust Bowl, one of America's greatest environmental disasters, was created in the 1930s when too many plains grasses were removed for farming. The grasses held the soil, and when a drought came, the winds sweeping across the plains created vast and terrible dust storms called black blizzards.

While the walls could very well stop the tornadoes, no one has any idea what they would do to the weather in the area or even miles away. If you believe in the "Butterfly in the Amazon" effect, such walls could actually change world weather patterns. Even small wind farms are causing changing weather patterns.

Still, I'm intrigued. The concept reminds me of the great public works projects from the New Deal, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority. These massive infrastructure projects helped rebuild the US economy and built some of what we think of as modern America. Building a 1,000-mile wall for $187 billion could lift the economy in similar ways.

Perhaps costs could even be trimmed by offering people space in one of the new "wall communities" for free if they work a certain amount of time near the wall, especially if more economic value could be gleaned from the walls. Perhaps the walls could be covered in solar panels to power the plains. Maybe they could serve as more environmentally secure pipelines (if people didn't live in them). The ways to make the walls more functional are nearly endless.

But the best solution I have is vertical farming. Clearly, farming space is at a premium as the population grows. And vertical farming is seen as a solution to the problem. Here's a video describing it.

As you can see, it is an environmentally sustainable way of using more land to make more food, and it has many side economic benefits. I'd love to see something like this applied to the walls so they could make economic sense and still do their job. That will attract folks to the walls as well, as jobs are created.

In the most respectful sense, this is a half-baked idea. But with the help of others, it could be a fully baked idea that could transform the country. I'd love to see this concept explored for a way to make it more than just a big brick wall, and something that could make the cost and effort worthwhile.

What do you think? Is it simply unfeasible to build a giant wall in the middle of the country to stop tornadoes? What could we add to this idea to make it work? Would you want to live anywhere near giant walls that might literally blot out the sun? Tell me in the comments section.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
6/27/2014 | 12:05:58 PM
Punch Line?
I thought this was a joke, I kept waiting for the punch line!

This is about as good as dropping nukes in to Hurricanes, and any of countless other wacky schemes to control the weather. Imagine having a series of 1000 foot walls spanning the Great Plains. That would be a weird thing indeed.

Changing weather involves a scale that we are not able to deal with, and complexities far beyond our current understanding.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
6/27/2014 | 12:08:43 PM
Half Baked?
I don't think this idea, as fascinating as it is, is baked at all, nor could it ever be. Even assuming that such a massive structure or series of structures would actually prevent or diminish tornadoes (big assumption), it'll probably just tick off Mother Nature in other ways -- who knows what other adverse weather patterns/conditiions it would create, in the Great Plains and/or elsewhere. Then there's the flawed economics: Millions of people aren't going to move to these structures with their surrounding shopping malls just because the government decided to build them in the middle of no where. Taxpayers (or mountains of more debt) would foot the entire bill. I won't even go into the aesthetics. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/27/2014 | 2:06:00 PM
Re: Punch Line?
@somedude8- Granted, it is difficult to test, and it may not work. And frankly that's why we'll never do it, because we're not going to try a $200 billion experiment.

That said, man made structures and much small land features change the weather all the time. One only has to watch the fog go into San Francisco to see what happens. Large cities actually alter the weather quite a bit. Concrete absorbs heat differently than soil. For instance, the average temperature of Brooklyn and Westchester differ by over 3 degrees despite being just a few miles apart. 

Three degrees of air temp difference over such a short range produces major effects on air patterns.



Since we're talking about cold air and hot air mixing, changing those absorbtion properties of the surrounding lan and breakign up the wind will have a major effect.

Simulations (and observaitons in similar areas) say this will work. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/27/2014 | 2:14:22 PM
Re: Half Baked?
@Rob- No, that's why the walls can't be empty shells. If you added vertical farming or another industry that created jobs and was also sustainable it changes the balance of the equation. 

I'll be the firs tto admit that if you can't get people to the walls it is too expensive to do anything worthwhile.

As for the environmental impact, that's where I'm more inclined to agree with you. As I said, the dust bowl is a big warning against this. We'd have to be very careful. 

That said, I feel like this is just a part of human existence. One of the reasons the car was incented (and it was marketed this way early in its existence) was to help get the horse poop off the street. It was a response to a change in the environment humans caused. Then the car put CO2 in the air and we're building electric cars and we're building wind turbines to power the electric cars. Now we're findign out the wind turbines are changing the weather where they are. No doubt, we'll find that solar panels en masse will do the same thing.

What will we do? We'll continually find that our solution to one problem creates a new one. And then, we'll solve that one. 

Is that sustainable? I guess it depends on whether you are an optimist or not. But we solved the dust bowl problem. So I don't see why if you have something which will create solutions to problems (in this case, the lack of food and danger form natural disaster) why you don't try to solve that problem first and then solve the next consquences when they come.
tekedge
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tekedge,
User Rank: Moderator
6/27/2014 | 4:18:58 PM
Weather Changes
Interesting facts about this much worrisome aspect of enviornment. Loved the optimism that there could be solutions. Having said that to bring this awareness among the world community and convincing them to work towards solutions is such a massive task that it is frightening. But thx for bringing bac the optimism for working towards a better enviornment
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/27/2014 | 5:18:24 PM
Re: Half Baked?
If we top the walls with solar panels, all the better. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/27/2014 | 6:39:24 PM
Re: Half Baked?
@Lorna- That's what I think. Though i wonder if that wouldn't create the world's scariest laser as the sun was gathered and reflected by a giant wall. We'd be like the ant in the magnifying glass. Still, I think the idea of adding on to what would otherwise be just a brick wall is the way to go.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/27/2014 | 6:40:34 PM
Re: Weather Changes
@tekedge- It's true. As the climate change will repeatedly make disasters worse, we need to start thinking bigger and raising awareness. A giant wall might not be the right answer, but something big better happen or we're all in toruble.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Moderator
6/27/2014 | 11:04:13 PM
Re: Weather Changes
It is true. Years ago, I never worried about natural disasters,until recent years when I noticed more than one first hand. It seems like natural disasters have also increased in its frequency around the world, unless the news coverage is just making such stories more prevalent. I hope we can find more ways to prevent global warming and natural disasters. It's devastating.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Moderator
6/27/2014 | 11:13:03 PM
Re: Weather Changes
I think we also need to be more respectful of other aspects of the environment. Such as: recycling, polluting the water and air, not littering, conserving energy, saving the rain forests, etc.
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