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The Future of Timbuktu


Timbuktu's Golden Age of Learning

Some 800 years ago, Timbuktu was one of the wealthiest cities in Africa, with gardened glades and waterways and a grand trading bazaar. It was also the home of great learning centers and courtyard libraries, only a very few of which survive today.

Old Timbuktoo

In European countries, Timbuktu was regarded as mystical and splendid but maybe that’s because it was a long way away from Europe and European travelers, as non-Muslims, were generally prohibited from entering the city.

Timbuktoo in the past

Since then though, Timbuktu has become a desert city, made worse by over-grazing and global warming. Though sites of past grandeur remain scattered around today, the city has become generally economically impoverished.

Sahelian city

The Future Rise of African Geo-Engineering

Some governments around the world — Russia, China, and India, for example — are starting to believe that we don’t have to give in to climate change but should develop even more powerful technologies to fix it with, using something they call 'geoengineering'.

So, in the mid twenty-first century, they spray millions of dense plumes of white dust into the global atmosphere, across vast swaths of barren land, and onto huge zones of polar ice, believing that this will cause excess solar energy to be reflected back into space.

By the end of the century, nobody really knows whether or not this has worked. The climate disasters of drought and mega-storms continue to manifest in Russia, China and India, and the weather systems of the northern hemisphere seem no less stable and actually more extreme and unpredictable. The national leaders (and the engineers) assert that climate change disruption would be even more severe if they hadn’t sprayed white dust over every inch of relevant landscape.

All this mucking about with the global weather ends up being a cataclysmic disaster for sub-Saharan Africa, including the Sahel grassland margin around Timbuktu since the air there becomes noticeably drier and the rainfall completely disappears, save for the occasional devastating floods once every decade, thus impoverishing the region’s people even further.

Cities in the Sahel region

Once upon a time, the Sahel grasslands receded southward, away from the city of Timbuktu, at a rate of only one-quarter mile per year, but after all the geoengineering, the grasslands recede at a rate of a dozen miles per year. By way of an apology, Russia, China, and India decide to set up even more bizarre geoengineering experiments, basing their labs and facilities in Timbuktu.

A desert city's unhelpful university.
University of Geo-Engineering, Timbuktu

The people of Timbuktu have absolutely no doubt that the geoengineering promises are pretty useless -- and not much good for African futures -- but they’re willing to play along because the project will bring money and employment to the city. This investment of resources also resurrects Timbuktu as a place of learning when a brand-new 'geoengineering' university is founded, which Timbuktu residents can attend free of charge.

As the engineers undertake ridiculously expensive and futile megaprojects to induce rain clouds in the expanding Sahara desert or bury atmospheric carbon dioxide in its rocks, the locals quietly continue to tend their livestock as best they can, hoping that, one day in the future, at least their children will be able to obtain a well-paying job in some other city.

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