Can the oil industry help address climate change? Saudi Arabia says yes.

A bulldozer and a crane lift barren earth from the ground at breakneck speed as six men in white thobe gowns tied around their waists carefully stack 100-pound slabs of rock in a long, neat row.  

A bustling construction project is not uncommon in Saudi Arabia, a country in the grip of rapid economic and social change. 

But here in Thadiq, in the baking Najd desert north of Riyadh, the only structure in sight is a 4-foot stone wall. The men work in a flat, exposed, dusty expanse pockmarked with hundreds of neatly dug holes, 4 feet long and 1 foot wide, stretching to the horizon like a battlefield cemetery waiting for the fallen. 

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The effort to abate climate change has a new player: Saudi Arabia. Yet some doubt the world’s second-largest oil producer will strike the right balance between current needs and future necessities.

This grand project is not the start of another gleaming skyscraper. It is something even more audacious: a future forest. 

“Greening needs effort and patience,” Abdullah al-Issa, or Abu Brahim, says as he directs the preparations for planting 30,000 saplings. “When you are doing good work, there is a lot of work to do.”

Taylor Luck

“Greening needs effort and patience. When you are doing good work, there is a lot of work to do.” – Abu Brahim, an agricultural engineer who, a decade ago, began planting saplings and seeds in barren fields that are now part of the government-supported Thadiq National Park

Can a desert turn green – and stay green? Can the world’s second-largest oil producer lead the fight against climate change? Saudi Arabia is saying yes to both – a bold bet whose payoff depends on places like Thadiq and individuals like Abu Brahim. 

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