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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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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 1:09:42 PM
Re: The Great Wall of Oz
@zerox203- Exactly. You get the spirit. The point is not to worry about this idea specifically (though it is a fun place to start) but ot use it as the start of a discussion on major issues including climate change, public safety in an increasingly dangerous world as climate change takes hold, and the beed to take prevention seriously.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 1:05:33 PM
Re: Building walls
@SaneIT- I think that language is there because unlike the rest of the world, science likes to be careful with its words. That is the concensus on how they are formed. Even if the details aren't fyully worked out, we know tornadoes form in areas where cold and hot air masses meet and create a circular air mass. 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 1:03:04 PM
Re: Lawsuits
@Gary_El- I know in reality, you don't need much of a reason to sue anyone these days, but what would be the legal grounds anyone would have to sue on for this?

Clearly, the thing is designed for public safety and the tennants of the space would be legal (whether agribusiness or others). Not sure how what grounds you'd have to stop it on.

Now, from a political point of view, I totally see it. The Keystone pipeline is a perfect example of how something can be delayed for years or even decades by politics regardless of which side of the political fence you are on.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 12:59:45 PM
Re: creative solution
@Impactnow- You're someone who believes. I like you. :)

It is admitedly difficult to test at full scale. The idea would be to create several real test walls scattered across the suggested path of the walls and monitor what happens to the air flow. And then slowly, we'd put more up and close the wall. Presumably, we'd see some of the issues, before the whole thing was built, but it wouldn't be cheap.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 12:55:53 PM
Re: Weather Changes
The Dutch Dike system is a perfect example of the type of "think big" system we need to be considering more of. It is widely considered the safest water control system in the world. It is over 350 miles of water control systems (in some places as much as 2 miles wide)  built since 1953. But there are hundreds of miles more that go back to as early as the 9th century and have held ever since. 

It is easy to look at every mistake man makes and assume everything will build after will be a mistake. It is also possible to look at successes that go back more than a thousand years and learn from them.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 12:16:56 PM
Re: creative solution
@impactnow: Now that may be possible, but what if the process damages the atmosphere? Since tornadoes are formed due to varying temperature winds being mixed with each other at varying speeds, and also the surrounding moisture, most of the controlling would have to be done at the lower atmosphere, and this would include dispersing chemicals or heat waves that evenly warm the mixing winds to avert a tornado.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 12:15:19 PM
Re: Building walls
@SaneIT: That would be insane. If such a project is undertaken, working models would have to be created first in wind blast tunnels. If the model fails then there's no question of spending 190 billion of stone walls. Better build sturdier buildings.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 12:13:25 PM
Re:Geekend: The Great Wall Of Oz
Some new technology. Next thing we'll come across is energy harvesting from tornadoes using portable windmills? Anything is possible. Rural damage from tornadoes would be averted if people would construct stone buildings instead of wood buildings. Woodwork costs more than stone anyway.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 11:31:22 AM
Re: The Great Wall of Oz
I think the value here is how easily it gets us all talking about something as important as climate change and our responsibility to the environment. When we talk about things like the Dutbowl (perfect example, Dave, and you made me want to watch that documentary), that really tugs at a core human issue we can't avoid - what do we owe back to the planet that gives us so much, will we ever fully understand it, and what our the consquences if we mess up? For some of these issues, it will not affect us, but instead, our children -what about our responsibility to them? Is technology or progress always the answer? A giant wall won't answer that question, but at least it will get us talking about it.

As for the wall itself, I'll agree that it's more sky than pie of an idea. Maybe it would work, scientifically, but the cost-benefit ends up awful sketchy any way you slice it. About offsetting the cost by putting people, vertical farming, etc. in it? It all seems very speculative - none of us are qualified to to talk about any of that, and as we've seen many times, often the 'experts' aren't either. As for the general notion that we should spend less money on war and more on humanitarian efforts? Here here, you won't find me disagreeing. Maybe it's not that simple, but I think in the year 2014 our priorities could do with a little re-evaluating at the least.
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 8:54:29 AM
Re: Weather Changes
Well, it is silly and a little ridiculous, so there is probably a pretty good chance government throws some money at it...
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