A man who knows how to feed us and how to stop the rise of the sea

By | July 12, 2008


Carl Hodges is growing salicornia, a crop nourished by ocean water that holds the potential to provide food and fuel to millions. … The crop is salicornia. It is nourished by seawater flowing from a man-made canal. And if you believe the American who is farming it, this incongruous swath of green has the potential to feed the world, fuel our vehicles and slow global warming. He is Carl Hodges, a Tucson-based atmospheric physicist who has spent most of his 71 years figuring out how humans can feed themselves in places where good soil and fresh water are in short supply.

The founding director of the University of Arizona’s highly regarded Environmental Research Lab, his work has attracted an eclectic band of admirers. They include heads of state, corporate chieftains and Hollywood stars, among them Martin Sheen and the late Marlon Brando.

Hodges’ knack for making things grow in odd environments has been on display at the Land Pavilion in the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida and the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona.

Here in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, he’s thinking much bigger.

The Earth’s ice sheets are melting fast. Scientists predict that rising seas could swallow some low-lying areas, displacing millions of people.

Hodges sees opportunity. Why not divert the flow inland to create wealth and jobs instead of catastrophe?

He wants to channel the ocean into man-made “rivers” to nourish commercial aquaculture operations, mangrove forests and crops that produce food and fuel. This greening of desert coastlines, he said, could add millions of acres of productive farmland and sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global warming. Hodges contends that it could also neutralize sea-level rise, in part by using exhausted freshwater aquifers as gigantic natural storage tanks for ocean water.

Analyzing recent projections of ice melt occurring in the Antarctic and Greenland, Hodges calculates that diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi Rivers inland would do the trick. He figures that would require 50 good-sized seawater farms that could be built within a decade if the world gets cracking.

“The only way we can stop [sea-level rise] is if people believe we can,” said Hodges, whose outsize intellect is exceeded only by his self-assurance. “This is the big idea” that humanity has been waiting for, he believes. – continued on LATimes

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