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Training Ground for Future Terraformers
Future Terraformers of America

Here's a site for those bored executives and hedge fund managers inexplicably unaffected by the worldwide economic freefall and seeking new thrills that only a handful have ever experienced: Cloud 9 Living.

This adventure outfit, based in Boulder, Colorado, advertises itself as “the premier experience gift company that offers the highest quality experiences as unforgettable gifts.” Such offerings include, for instance, diving with a Great White shark from a private luxury yacht. Priced at $100,000, you'd better be diving from and uncorking champagne on the deck of The Gigayatch. If wading in the deep doesn't interest you, you can fly a Mig 25 from a top-secret Rusian airbase. Of course, this chance of surveying the landscapes in rarefied air, at supersonic speeds, will also cost you dearly.

There are, however, plenty of affordable options as well. You can sign up for nighttime white water rafting expedition in which you can survey the terrain through unfamiliar wavelengths of light with night vision goggles. And again, if floating in water bores you, how about a nighttime helicopter tour of the neon-drenched alien landscape of Las Vegas?

One “experience gift” we wouldn't mind giving to ourselves is a day or two or even a whole week spent at Dig This. There, at “the 1st heavy equipment play arena,” you can “play in the dirt - super sized” with an array of “empowering” heavy machineries.

Future Terraformers of America

From the Dig This website:

You can get lost in our 10-acre site with hills, valleys and a spectacular views of the Yampa Valley. Under the supervision of Dig This instructors, you can remove yourself from the external influences of life and focus only on the adventure at hand, automatically building self-confidence and adrenaline levels.

As if to feed some primal urge, starved by a 21st century lifestyle disconnected from the earth, emasculated by the droning shrills of sustainability and pastoralism, you can “doze and excavate dams and ponds” and “move and remove sand, gravel, rock, and other materials from your own individual area.” In climate controlled machines.

We can call this Post-Industrial Romanticism. Mineral lyricism?

Making tiny mountains or rock gardens seems to be a popular task there, as are “team building” and “character building.” But for some real fun, why not spend a whole month excavating a new city, another Denver ex-urb without its McMansions? In this supersized urban sandbox, you can scrape the outlines of future roads, driveways and cul-de-sacs. You can will into existence an entirely new hydrology of storm culverts and drainage channels, thus undoing billions of years of natural tectonic activities.

These foundational landscapes are all ready to be paved over and occupied, but no lawns or SUVs will come. It's as if the developers and creditors have fled, the bankrupt homeowners unwilling to visit their spectacularly failed investments. It's a landscape in a perpetual state of waiting.

Future Terraformers of America

In any case, exactly how popular Dig This is, we don't know. But the operators and instructors are certainly attuned to the zeitgeist.

Reporting over a year ago on research by geologists Brandon McElroy of the University of Texas in Austin and his colleague Bruce Wilkinson of Syracuse University, the Discovery Channel wrote that “human changes to landscapes are now on par with the wasting power of weather and tectonic uplift.”

In other words, we are on par with the same natural forces that move continents across oceans and erode entire mountain ranges down to hills.

A new take of the scale of human changes to the face of the Earth shows that by farming alone, humans have now managed to move a thousand times more earth than the annual sediment loads of all the world's rivers combined. That's enough soil to cover the state of Rhode Island nearly two miles deep in dirt.

And the rate of human changes to the land is increasing.

Indeed, a recent article in The New York Times reported that “thousands of farmers are taking their fields out of the government’s biggest conservation program, which pays them not to cultivate.” There are 36.8 million acres of land in the program, bigger in area than the state of New York; “last fall, they took back as many acres as are in Rhode Island and Delaware combined.”


“Because of a growing global middle class as well as federal mandates to turn large amounts of corn into ethanol-based fuel, food prices are beginning to jump. Cropland is suddenly in heavy demand.” So naturally, farmers want “to cash in on the boom in wheat, soybean, corn and other crops.”

Future Terraformers of America

And then there are the reports of a growing breed of diggers who also want to cash in on the boom in the mineral trade. Again in the The New York Times, we read that “160 years after a flake of gold found not far from here incited a frenzied stampede to the Sierra Nevada foothills, a new gold rush is on.”

Driven by record high prices and a suburban thirst for new outdoor activities, tens of thousands of ’08ers are taking to historically rich streams and hills all across the West in search of nuggets, flecks and — more often than not — specks of gold.

However, not everyone is foraging along rivers.

Some prospectors have taken to scouring ore dumps — discarded piles of rock left by old-time miners — with high-tech metal detectors hoping to divine what previous generations missed. In Arizona, clubs head for dry creeks, sifting through the dirt where gold might have washed down in past floods.

Here, one wonders how the big transnational mining companies will take advantage in this uptick in prices of not only gold but also copper, titanium, coal and whatever China wants to gobble up all for itself. But then again, one only needs to see the photos included in this Wikipedia entry on open-pit mine to get a fairly accurate prediction.

Just check out this grossly beautiful panorama of the open-pit coal mine in Garzweiler, Germany.

And this is the Grasberg Mine in Indonesia, the largest gold mine in the world. Here and in other gold mines across the world — where the earth is undone, where billions of tons of dirt get displaced, enough perhaps to save every Pacific islands from sinking beneath the climate-changed waters — is where the staggeringly complex relationship between gold prices and the global credit crisis, the falling value of the dollar and the failure of Bear Stearns are physically manifested in the landscape.

As new slums begin to appear out in the peripheries of American cities and even further afield and as the next generation of grandiose projects like the Orange County Great Park and Louisville's Museum Plaza stall due to lack of funds, elsewhere not covered by the top-tier and middling architectural press are new abysses being excavated, swirling towards the inner core, overlaying new un-earthly soil horizons, suffocating lives and geographies alike.

Future Terraformers of America

We won't be surprising anyone by saying that there is currently a construction boom everywhere. Read any articles published in The New York Times, The Economist and the BBC, especially those of Dubai, China and the quarterly profits of Caterpillar or those of earlier reports on Mecca eradicating its historic Mohammedan neighborhoods to make way for billion-dollar developments and Singapore pirating sand from Indonesia, and you're already well-informed of the situation.

As but one more iteration of this global phenomenon, there is the recently approved $5.25-billion Panama Canal expansion project. To accommodate post-Panamax vessels and to better cope with the projected increases in cargo traffic, new locks are to be built. New approach channels will be dredged and existing ones deepened and widened. Gatun Lake will similarly be deepened and its water level raised to increase water storage capacity. It is thus rightly labeled an engineering megaproject.

Earlier this month, gave us an update by reporting that a dredging contract was given to the Belgian firm Dredging International. No new fascinating details are given, but it's interesting to note the other companies who made bids for the same contract. They are Boskalis International, Jan De Nul and Van Oord.

Long-time readers of this blog may recognize these names. Jan De Nul and Van Oord are, of course, responsible for conjuring up Dubai's artificial archipelagos, both The World and The Palms, from the bottom of the sea. And Boskalis is known for its trailing hopper suction dredgers, a fleet that includes the largest THSD in the world; no doubt they'll be deployed to carry out the company's newly awarded contract, worth nearly $1.5 billion, to create a new port for Abu Dhabi.

Future Terraformers of America

All this, then, is the milieu in which Dig This, intentionally or inadvertently, has set up their operations, a creative playpen where future terraformers might be reared in the form of chief executives instilled with the acumen to capitalize on a very profitable futures market or lowly, overworked but extremely well-paid diggers and excavators.

Or the next generation of Robert Smithsons and Michael Heizers. A new breed of Olmsteds and Capability Browns liberated from the ancient paradigms of the Picturesque, Romanticism and Sustainability.

Trailing Suction Hopper Dredgers

  • Alexander Trevi
  • April 23, 2008 at 4:23:00 PM CDT
  • NPR Podcast: Geology Students Striking It Rich

    With the price of oil, gold and other metals at near record levels, these are heady times at the Colorado School of Mines. Employers are falling all over themselves to hire new graduates. Who'd have thought that being a geologist would make you so popular — and bring you $80,000 a year to start?

  • Peter
  • April 27, 2008 at 7:22:00 AM CDT
  • It would be awesome if we could get in some of those armored Cat bulldozers and run over some homes - or shoot some little Muslim kids. Now that is something I would pay for. How much would that cost, do ya think?

    And I'm not saying I need to run over a dirty American hippie or anything - I'll leave that to the IDF. I just wanna be able to go medieval on some families and run over their homes - there's nothing wrong with that, is there?

    Thanks Caterpillar, for all you do!

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