Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
6/27/2014
10:11 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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.

InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of the Internet of Things. Find out the way in which an aging workforce will drive progress on the Internet of Things, why the IoT isn't as scary as some folks seem to think, how connected machines will change the supply chain, and more. (Free registration required.)

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
Previous
2 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 6   >   >>
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/2/2014 | 7:17:47 AM
Re: Building walls
Years ago we had talks about companies who wanted to go out and seed a hurricane or disrupt its formation and IIRC they were shut down by several government departments for obvious reasons.  You can't exactly go dumping chemicals from the sky at will.   The US government even tried this years ago with a project called Storm Fury and it was determined that it just wasn't worth the effort.  The expense was a fixed cost in the billions for what might be a chance to stop a once in a decade storm.  I suspect the wall suffers from this same problem.  It won't stop every tornado and the ones that end up weaker because of the wall will be few and far between.  I'm not saying that dreaming up big ideas like this is pointless, I love to read about a fanciful solution for big problems but it's a hard sell to say the least.
Gary_EL
50%
50%
Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
7/1/2014 | 1:47:32 PM
Re: Lawsuits
Well, if this thing can stop hurricanes, it will probably affect other weather events, too. A regional farming business might get colder or hotter temperatures, or receive more or less rain. It will affect crop yield, probably for the worse. The result? A lawsuit, and ultimately, a Supreme Court Ruling on causing deliberate climate change.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/1/2014 | 12:04:09 PM
Re: Building walls
@SaneIT- It absolutely would spin up bigger storms if it was an uninterupted smooth wall. It would act like a scoop and send air straight up which is bad. But if you break up the wall, make sure it has shape and texture,  etc, you could avoid that. Just like Manhattan doesn't act like a giant wind scoop.
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/1/2014 | 12:02:03 PM
Re: Building walls
@SaneIT- I think the obvious answer is that they cost $190 billion. :)

No seriously, here's the problem. To stop giant storms you need a giant system. To make a giant system it costs a lot of money and you have to admit that you can't promise it works until it stands up to the first storm. So no one wants to pay for the experiment. Rinse and repeat.

I get that. But at one point or another we're going to have to trust someone if we want to stop this.
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/1/2014 | 7:39:07 AM
Re: Building walls
@ yalanand, I can see some issues that will not be seen in wind tunnel testing.  I know it was mentioned in the blog post but you're pretty much building a mountain ridge across the plains.  The animals displaced, people displaced and foliage destroyed to put this wall up is going to be a real issue.  Another issue I see that maybe a wind tunnel could show if they spend long enough testing the angles of the wind against the wall is making storms worse as I mentioned before.  If you've ever been between two tall buildings when the wind is blowing you know that the wind speeds up between those buildings.  I wonder if putting that wall in the wrong spot could actually spin up even bigger storms at  either end of the wall as super fast winds come off the wall.
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/1/2014 | 7:32:44 AM
Re: Building walls
@David, that could be, but if I'm spending $190 billion I need more than "this might work".  Having lived through several hurricanes there always seems to be someone talking about how they could stop the storms or change their path but I have yet to see someone actually do it.  Given the cost of repairing all the damage done by a hurricane it would make sense to kill the storm before it makes landfall so why haven't we seen a storm killing system yet?
vnewman2
50%
50%
vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 3:38:34 PM
Re: The Great Wall of Oz
Hahahaha! A classic David! One of my favorite fear-tactic PSAs!
mak63
50%
50%
mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 3:37:40 PM
Re: Weather Changes
Global Warming is as Big a Hoax as there is.

Climate Change on the other hand is the real deal.


Isn't global warming a particular aspect of climate change?
David Wagner
50%
50%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
6/30/2014 | 3:05:34 PM
Re: The Great Wall of Oz
@vnewman2- Love it! Also, "This is your plain without walls. This is your plain with walls. Any questions?"
vnewman2
50%
50%
vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
6/30/2014 | 2:13:58 PM
Re: The Great Wall of Oz
Hmmmm...I forsee a government marketing campaign here: "If you build it, they won't come..." Catchy, no?
Page 1 / 6   >   >>
The Business of Going Digital
The Business of Going Digital
Digital business isn't about changing code; it's about changing what legacy sales, distribution, customer service, and product groups do in the new digital age. It's about bringing big data analytics, mobile, social, marketing automation, cloud computing, and the app economy together to launch new products and services. We're seeing new titles in this digital revolution, new responsibilities, new business models, and major shifts in technology spending.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest September 18, 2014
Enterprise social network success starts and ends with integration. Here's how to finally make collaboration click.
Flash Poll
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.