A few hours ago, this small brown canyon mouse in the Mojave Desert was blissfully unaware of the humans camping nearby.
Now, one of the campers, Teresa Cabrera, is holding it by the scruff high in the air. There’s no way to know what the critter is feeling, but it looks scared. Has it seen a human before? Does it think it’s going to be eaten?
One thing’s for sure: It has no idea that it’s part of a giant plan to save this desert—and possibly the planet. If it knew, maybe it wouldn’t have chomped down so hard on Cabrera’s finger.
“Ow, he bit me!” she calls out.
Don’t worry, both the human and the mouse are fine.
LISTEN: Desert in a Box
Cabrera is in the Mojave, three hours east of Los Angeles, trapping mice with a half dozen scientists who volunteer for Blueprint Earth—a non-profit on a mission to preserve threatened ecosystems like the Mojave. They are trying to pull off something no one has ever succeeded at before. They are building models of sacred environmental habitats so they can be replicated at a future date.
It’s a plan that’s as crazy as it is smart, as logical as it is unlikely. But before we get to the details, meet the people behind it: Jess and Carlos Peláez.
Jess and Carlos have grand aspirations.
This goes back to the night they first met seven years ago at a bar in Los Angeles. They were both designated drivers and Carlos spotted Jess in the crowd. Pretty soon he was chatting her up. He remembers telling her about his crazy plan to mine an energy source called Helium-3 from the moon.
“I told her that if you could get a space shuttle’s worth of Helium-3, you could power an entire city like LA for a year,” he said.
If you’ve never heard of Helium-3, you’re not alone. It’s a special kind of helium that some people think could power nuclear plants. It’s rare on Earth’s surface and probably even rarer as an effective pick up line.
Lucky for Carlos, Jess had heard of Helium-3. In fact, her thesis advisor was a premier Helium-3 scientist. She shot back that Helium-3 can be found on the bottom of the ocean and it’s probably a lot easier to get it there than going to the moon.
“I thought, ‘Hey, this sounds great,’” Carlos said. “Let’s go to the bottom of the ocean and mine for Helium-3.”
That chat at the bar led to phone calls and dates and eventually marriage. All the while, Jess and Carlos kept talking about big ideas like this, which brings us to what they’re doing today: Blueprint Earth.
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This story was produced by WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR news station. And be sure to check out more stories in WBEZ’s “Heat of the Moment” series, which explores the impacts of climate change on our everyday lives. Support for “Heat of the Moment” is provided by The Joyce Foundation, which works to improve quality of life, promote community vitality and achieve a fair society.