is growing salicornia, a crop nourished by ocean water that holds the potential to provide food and fuel to millions.
Why not divert the flow inland to create wealth and jobs instead of catastrophe?
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.
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.
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
"This is the big idea" that humanity has been waiting for, he
trademark floppy hat, an iPhone wired perpetually to his
head and a propensity to assign environmental reading homework to complete strangers, Hodges
might be dismissed by some as an eccentric who has spent too much time in the Mexican sun.
"When I first met Carl, I thought he was a philosopher," said actor Sheen, a longtime friend.
has already built such a farm in Africa.
Political upheaval there shut much of it down in 2003.
That's why he's
determined to construct a showcase project in North America to demonstrate what's possible.
needs now is $35 million.
Hodges, who now heads the nonprofit Seawater Foundation, plugged salicornia for years as the plant to help end world hunger.
The private sector yawned.
Then oil prices exploded.
shot to lift his
fleshy, leafless shrub from obscurity.
That's because salicornia has another nifty quality: It can be converted into biofuel.
And, unlike grain-based ethanol, it doesn't need rain or prime farmland, and it doesn't distort global food markets.
has estimated that halophytes planted over an area the size of the Sahara Desert could supply more than 90% of the world's energy needs.
Last year, Hodges formed a for-profit company called Global Seawater Inc. to produce salicornia biofuel in liquid and solid versions.
lugs samples of it around in a suitcase like some environmental traveling salesman.
The enterprise recently planted 1,000 acres of salicornia here in rural Sonora, where Hodges
has been doing preparatory research for decades.
"Nothing is wasted," Hodges
already has a small refinery to process salicornia oil into biodiesel fuel, which Hodges
believes can be produced for at least one-third less than the current market price of crude oil.
Leftover plant material would be converted into solid biofuel "logs" that he
said burned cleaner than coal or wood.
"Carl is a wonderful scientist," he said of Hodges.
"is a lousy businessman."
has sold assets and maxed out credit cards over the years to keep his
seawater dreams afloat.
But it's not for the prospect of a big payday.
A lifetime of studying the Earth's ecosystems has convinced him that the planet is in peril.
determined to help get things back in balance.
Driving through the sun-scorched Sonora countryside, he
pointed to abandoned grain silos and crumbling concrete irrigation channels, tombstones of failed efforts at conventional farming.
"It's a dust bowl," Hodges
project has met all environmental requirements posed by Mexico.
The biggest catastrophe, he
said, would be to do nothing in the face of climate change.
"My father once told me, 'Carl, there is a special place in hell reserved for fence sitters.' "
The son of a horse trainer, Hodges
grew up around racetracks.
dad once traded their Phoenix home for some thoroughbreds, moving the family briefly into a shed.
A stomach for risk-taking landed the young scientist in the top spot at the Environmental Research Lab in 1967 at the age of 30.
decided that farming must be adapted to utilize saltwater, which accounts for 97% of the world's water supply.
team's work on shrimp cultivation fueled the explosion in Mexico's aquaculture industry.
The leader of Abu Dhabi sent his
lab $3.6 million on a handshake to build a saltwater greenhouse system for growing vegetables in that arid emirate.
Brando took a shine to Hodges
after meeting him at an environmental gathering in the late 1970s.
The reclusive star hosted the wonky scientist several times at his
private island retreat of Tetiaroa in the South Pacific, an area especially vulnerable to sea-level rise.
"Marlon understood global warming," Hodges
thought we were running out of time."
Hodges' model for the Mexico project is a seawater farm he
designed for the government of Eritrea, an impoverished, bone-dry East African nation perched on the Red Sea.
"It was a miracle," said Tekie Teclemariam Anday, an Eritrean marine biologist who now works with Hodges in Mexico.
Hodges is "a pioneer," Bushnell said.
contends that all manner of renewables are needed to wean the planet from its oil addiction.
talk of stopping sea-level rise and reinventing agriculture is so audacious that some of his
own backers have cautioned him to tone it down.
But longtime friend Sheen says Hodges
isn't likely to.
"We have to be outrageous in our efforts to solve" climate change, the actor said.
is on a mission to save the world."