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Let a billion trees bloom: Can a great green wall of trees stop China’s spreading desert?
Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia, China —We start walking up ridges as high as 10 staircases, slipping as the grains of sand tumble underfoot, grabbing a hand to keep from falling, pushing to get to the top of the next dune to see the sea of sand undulating in the distance.
“We are on the front line of a huge Chinese Dust Bowl advancing east,” says former South Korean ambassador to China Byong Hyon Kwon, an activist in the global fight against deserts on the move.
He is leading a group of volunteers across 21 / 2 miles of desert to a “green wall” of recently planted trees and shrubs aimed at blocking the march of sand and restoring the land. As recently as 50 years ago, this was grassland, Kwon says. People lived here and raised sheep.
But now the Kubuqi Desert is sucking away life. Windstorms threaten the air 800 miles away in Beijing and send plumes all the way across the Pacific to the West Coast of the United States.
Kwon founded Future Forest, a nonprofit organization, to combat desertification in 2001. As ambassador to China from 1998 to 2001, he had experienced firsthand the sandstorms known as the Yellow Dragon, which thicken the skies over Beijing with dust and send people with asthmatic lungs and weak hearts to the hospital. He became convinced then that if action weren’t taken, the march of sand would threaten the viability of the Asian continent.