Everyone knows and everyone says that the challenges and threats we face are global and enormous. And the answers? They stammer. Timid. Local. Helpful. Necessary. Encouraging. But not up to the challenge.

In the past, humanity has thought big. And, often, useful too, with huge projects from which we still benefit today: the Roman Empire launched huge works across Europe, some of which are still in use today. In the 18th century, the United Provinces reacted to the threat of flooding by building huge dams, which ensured their survival and contributed to their world supremacy for two centuries and to their power today. In the 19th century, the English built roads, canals, a railway network and the London Underground, all of which ensured their imperial power. The United States also launched huge projects, from the Tennessee Valley Autorithy to the conquest of the moon. In the second half of the twentieth century, France (having built the Suez Canal in the 19th century, to the great benefit of the British) also launched major projects from which we still benefit today, from the civil nuclear energy programme to the renovation of the Louvre Museum (now the largest in the world) and the development of the Languedoc region.

History teaches us that it is the countries that have aimed the furthest and the highest with their major projects that have the best economic and political results.

But what about today? Are there any major projects? Some countries are launching them, such as Neom in Saudi Arabia (including The Line, a 120-kilometre-long, 200-metre-wide city of mirrors that will operate without cars or fossil fuels), with the world’s largest coral garden on the island of Shusha. In Iceland, a Swiss company has launched the first plant to capture carbon directly from the air, powered by geothermal energy.

Almost none of these very large projects are truly international, apart from ITER, a collaboration between 35 nations, representing 85% of the world’s GDP, to create a nuclear fusion reactor that will, from 2035, experimentally surpass the largest experimental fusion reactors currently in service in the United Kingdom and Japan; the Square Kilometre Array, launched by the European Space Agency, which will be the largest radio telescope in the world capable of detecting objects almost thirteen billion light years away; and the International Space Station, bringing together the United States, the European Union, Japan, Russia and many other countries, for experiments planned up to 2030. Finally, a vast multinational project aimed (still very modestly) at preparing to divert any meteorites capable of hitting the Earth and destroying all human life.

None of this is equal to the challenges we face. Humanity is facing climate threats, a shortage of drinking water and the artificialization of nature, and is in danger of being overtaken by the potential of artificial intelligence and genomics. What are we doing about it? Nothing. Humanity as a whole is not launching any of the major projects on which its survival depends.

At least three of these major projects should be given serious consideration:

1/ Cover part of the Sahara with solar panels to supply renewable energy to the whole of Africa, and if there is any left, to Europe via undersea cables to Italy and Spain. And cover another part of the Sahara with biodiversity that is as natural and sustainable as possible to enable massive carbon capture and sustainable regenerative agriculture.

2/ Organise a network of electric trains from the Pacific to the Atlantic, from Seoul to Le Havre, from Shanghai to Rotterdam, to transport goods by means other than the sea. However, this would have to be made possible by the political systems of the countries crossed, and the electricity used would have to be neither produced nor transported by fossil fuels.

3 / Launch a very large observatory far away to detect the various forms of life that certainly exist somewhere in the universe. And make contact.

These projects are crazy. Perhaps totally unfeasible. And I can see the risks and weaknesses.

But that’s no reason not to think about launching projects as big as the threats we face. No reason not to think really big.


Painting: Edouard Riou, Inauguration of the Suez Canal, 1869