Why don't we live underground?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. With me is Charles, Chuck, Bryant. As always, we're the Stuff You Should Know guys, so, hey. How's it going, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Hey.

Josh Clark: Hey.

Chuck Bryant: It's going good.

Josh Clark: So, with all the Olympics stuff going on and it's all on Beijing and all that, this is, like, the second podcast of recent times that I've mentioned Beijing because the Olympics are just so huge. My question is this, Chuck. Did you know that there's an underground city beneath Beijing?

Chuck Bryant: I did, Josh, because I read your really cool article.

Josh Clark: Oh, well, thank you very much, Chuck. I appreciate that. Did you read the, "Is there a city beneath Beijing?"

Chuck Bryant: Oh, no, I thought the one you referenced in your article Why don't we live underground?

Josh Clark: Yeah, no, there's another one on the site, too, called Is there an underground city below Beijing?

Chuck Bryant: Didn't read that one.

Josh Clark: It's awesome. Let me tell you about it. So, Chairman Mao gets into a little border dispute with the Soviets in '69 and the Soviets basically show him, we're not messing around, pal. Like, we will come in or we will nuke you or whatever. This is at a time when the Russians were getting their chops with the U.S. and the Cold War.

Chuck Bryant: Right, strong-arming, sure.

Josh Clark: So, at that time, China wasn't much of a threat to them. So, Chairman Mao is, like, okay, maybe we should do something about this just in case. He puts the residents of Beijing, the capital city of China, to work for the next 10 years constructing an underground city that can house, like, 300,000 people in the event of an emergency. It's very cool. It's still around actually.

Chuck Bryant: What is it now?

Josh Clark: There's part of it that are accessible still. It's actually been turned into something of an underground mall.

Chuck Bryant: Of course.

Josh Clark: Right. And there's tours and that kind of thing. Apparently, it's pretty easy to kind of drift off from the tour and go down some forbidden corridors so there's still, like, old bunk beds with rotting mattresses and there's pictures of Chairman Mao everywhere and it's pretty cool. They also had, like, these little patches for growing mushrooms and digging wells and you could've lived in there comfortably for four months.

Chuck Bryant: That's pretty cool. No Olympic village though? That's not down there?

Josh Clark: No. No, not at this time!

Chuck Bryant: It would've been a good idea.

Josh Clark: This is the subterranean mutants used it for their 2006 Olympics -

Chuck Bryant: Training mutant Olympics.

Josh Clark: Yeah. They don't like to be talked about very much. But the thing was never used, thankfully for the residents of Beijing and actually it's just one example of an underground structure. There's tons of them all over the place.

Chuck Bryant: Right, and I know Norad is one.

Josh Clark: NORAD is a great example. What's NORAD?

Chuck Bryant: It's a defense system basically that detects if people are going to send nuclear warheads our way. And not as useful anymore! Well, maybe I shouldn't say that but -

Josh Clark: No, actually, they're looking into decommissioning it in 2006.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, well, that's -

Josh Clark: I didn't find any follow-up information. I don't think they made the decision yet.

Chuck Bryant: Well, they smartly put NORAD inside a mountain basically.

Josh Clark: Cheyenne Mountain.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, 700,000 tons of rock that they dug out of this thing and I think the door is, like, three and a half feet thick and basically they determined that we're safe no matter what happens.

Josh Clark: Yeah, when they built the place in the 60s they were a 100 percent confident that it could withstand a direct nuclear strike.

Chuck Bryant: That's nuts.

Josh Clark: It is nuts. Nowadays, they're, like, yeah, maybe in the 60s, not with today's intercontinental ballistic missiles, the mountain would shatter.

Chuck Bryant: Exactly, maybe [inaudible] -

Josh Clark: Which is equally nuts actually I think that, you know that we have ballistic missiles that we can just level entire mountains with. So, but, yeah, Norad it's kind of this homage to the security of underground living and the U.S. Government isn't the only group to have come across. It's not just Chairman Mao and Uncle Sam that figured out, hey, underground is pretty secure. Insurance companies and information bureaus like credit reporting companies, Sun Micro Systems, the people who run the internet and are the keepers of all of our information, they've discovered the same thing. I mentioned Sun, they just leased I believe an old mine in Japan and are now - they now store their network servers below ground. It's very secure. You can't get in or out very easily and Chuckers, in our beloved city of Atlanta, we even have a couple underground buildings here or there.

Chuck Bryant: Right, the -

Josh Clark: I think you know which one I'm talking about.

Chuck Bryant: The Underground Atlanta; the famous, or once famous, Underground Atlanta.

Josh Clark: I've got one even better than that. The old Equifax Building now occupied by the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Chuck Bryant: Is that underground?

Josh Clark: Most of it is very much underground to protect - obviously it couldn't handle an intercontinental ballistic missile if Cheyenne Mountain can't but it can handle something and burglars can't just prance in and out so -

Chuck Bryant: Well, I know one of the other benefits to it being underground is natural disaster, weather; you have more constant temperatures so it's more energy efficient if you're underground.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and you don't really think of houses as being too terribly energy inefficient, you know, obviously there's some fat we could trim here or there but I was reading a study that found that transportation is always cited as the big - or one of the big sectors that contributes to climate change; it turns out that all of the buildings in the United States consume six times more energy and emit six times more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the country combined.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yeah, so, apparently there is a whole subgenre, subculture, sub something of architects who have decided that it's kind of unburdened on them to kind of take up the mantle and start designing -

Chuck Bryant: Go underground.

Josh Clark: - go underground. That's one of the theories - that's one of the ideas that's being batted around right now.

Chuck Bryant: Well, why do you think more people don't live underground if it's such a - if it's so great down there?

Josh Clark: Well, number one, if you thought talking Americans out of driving SUVs is difficult, imagine telling them that they have to now give up their nice two-story colonial or something like that and they have to move into an earth shelter dome. I think that's number one. Number two and I think the point that you were leading to is that it's a huge old slap in the face of evolution. Agreed?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Chuck Darwin is rolling in his grave as we speak.

Josh Clark: He would be. Just thinking of this, you know, or he'd be salivating at a perfect - natural experiment, like, yes, stupid humans, move underground so I can take notes. That kind of thing! And the reason it's a slap in the face of evolution is that we're diurnal, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: We - our sleep patterns or wakefulness, all of that is based on the sun.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Circadian rhythm!

Josh Clark: Yeah, so, basically, when we decide to go to sleep or wake up, it's generally based on the sun. Think about it. We're not farmers any longer but it's kind of tough to sleep past sun up these days, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Even though we don't have to be out there to milk the cows or plant the corn or harvest the corn depending on what time of year it is -

Chuck Bryant: But we've evolved that way so there's no getting rid of it now.

Josh Clark: Right. And we also are kind of linked to the sun - well, I don't even want to say kind of, we are sun slaves basically. The Egyptians had it right when the called the sun raw and worshipped it because that's pretty much how linked we are to it.

Chuck Bryant: We need it. We need that Vitamin D.

Josh Clark: We do. Yeah. Think about it, Chuck. We get all of our other vitamins from, like, milk, from -

Chuck Bryant: Vegetables.

Josh Clark: That's a great example.

Chuck Bryant: Fruits.

Josh Clark: Yes, from chewing on rocks.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: That whole thing. We get every single one of our vitamins from an external source except one, Vitamin D.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's -

Josh Clark: We actually create that through a process of photosynthesis.

Chuck Bryant: Right, within our own bodies.

Josh Clark: Right, from the suns radiation. It serves as a catalyst for Vitamin D production in the body and Vitamin D is important. How do you ask?

Chuck Bryant: How, Josh?

Josh Clark: It protects against rickets. Have you ever seen a rickets patient?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's a bone disease.

Josh Clark: It is. It's a lack of bone development and actually when I was researching this there is - 90 percent of the children in Europe and America in some terrible couple of decades in the 19th Century suffered from rickets. If they lived in an urban area, they had rickets to some degree or other. There's a picture of a girl who is a ricket sufferer. She's 19; her name is Shyling. It's in the article on howstuffworks.com and she's two feet tall and she's cute as a button but she's 19 and she's struggled with rickets her whole life. Her's is congenital but there's all sorts of problems associated with a lack of Vitamin D, and don't forget the serotonin.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, serotonin is big. Serotonin is a hormone responsible for basically good moods.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and you can -

Chuck Bryant: In a nutshell.

Josh Clark: Yeah, positive outlook and conversely, if you don't have enough serotonin, which is produced from exposure to the sun or actually lack of exposure to the sun, you go out in the sun - melatonin is produced and once the melatonin production stops, meaning you're out of the sun, serotonin production kicks in so one leads to the other so you have to have sunlight which accounts for seasonal affective disorder. And it's not just the sun that we need. We need air and we need air in certain supply. And we also are pretty acclimated to the atmospheric pressure around sea level. That's what we've evolved to - adapt to.

Chuck Bryant: Correct. Which is why scuba divers and even miners, it's the same thing as being under water, you need to depressurize or decompress as they come up.

Josh Clark: Exactly. That's exactly right so living underground poses a lot of problems to us, you know, should we listen to the ghost of Darwin - to Darwin beyond the grave. Should we traipse into this natural experiment or is it too late, have we already started?

Chuck Bryant: That's a good question.

Josh Clark: And the answer is yes. We have already started. You know when we were talking about NORAD; we were talking about Mr. Chairman Mao's underground city in Beijing; there's a lot of actual, like, everyday architecture out there that's below ground.

Chuck Bryant: Right. I know that the Marin County Jail is partially underground. It's kind of a cool looking building.

Josh Clark: Yeah, which provides for a lot of security? Like you were saying, it's more energy efficient.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, it keeps the prisoners nice and cool.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they're just kind of cooling out there -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's important.

Josh Clark: - in Marin County. And there's a really cool example of an underground museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. There was this old colonial settlement from the 17th Century and rather than build this visitor center and museum above ground and detract from the natural scene, they actually built it into the side of a hill. Even cooler, this museum shutdown in 2002 and as far as I know, it's still there which makes it a prime spot for urban explorers to explore. So, it's like a one, two punch for the How Stuff Works articles right there.

Chuck Bryant: I don't know that we'd endorse that.

Josh Clark: We would never ever endorse that -

Chuck Bryant: Because that's probably trespassing but -

Josh Clark: Yes.

Chuck Bryant: - but I bet it would be neat.

Josh Clark: So, you got any other examples of -

Chuck Bryant: Well, I know of Alice City in Japan. The Japanese are kind of leading the way because Japan is not the largest land mass and there's a lot of people there.

Josh Clark: They're land-starved.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so, they're kind of leading the way and instead of going up, up, up, which they've already done in spades, they're going down and Alice City is one example. It's not built yet but it's a proposed - I wouldn't call it a complete city but shopping mall and -

Josh Clark: It has the - you know, also has restaurants; I think there's office space and living.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: I think it's a bit of a stretch to call it a city.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's really cool looking though. I checked out the pictures online today and it's really neat.

Josh Clark: It is. It's like these two parallel shafts going, like, 550 feet into the ground -

Chuck Bryant: Covered with a big bubble to let light in.

Josh Clark: Right, and that's what - all the light comes in through these two domes and the two domes is all you can see above ground to even know anything is there.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And then it's all connected by these series of walkways and tunnels and everything underground. There's another proposal in Japan that I don't think ever came to fruition. It's called the urban geo grid. This one you actually could call an underground city. It covered - or it would cover 485 square miles -

Chuck Bryant: Wow, yeah, that qualifies in my book.

Josh Clark: I would say - yeah, that's a decent size city. That's, like, what Kansas City, Kansas?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, something like that.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and it can hold or house or, you know, it could accommodate up to a half a million people at a time.

Chuck Bryant: Wow, this makes me wonder if, you know, what that means for the people on top. I'm sure they're taking all the right moves and suring up everything underneath there but when you weaken the ground underneath what's already a large city, it makes me worry, personally.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it - and there's all sorts of questions like I read a question from a guy who was saying, "What does this do to the temperature of the water table," which we probably really shouldn't be messing with that kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant: Right, because there's a lot of water underground.

Josh Clark: Yeah, although, we've made a pretty big mess of things above ground. I can pretty much predict that we'd make an equally big mess below ground, too.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: But -

Chuck Bryant: Out of sight, out of mind.

Josh Clark: Wow, yeah, can you imagine how bad it would be then if we couldn't even see it.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: It'd be like the great pacific garbage dump. Have you read that one?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I read that one.

Josh Clark: That's another one. Wow, we've just been hitting them all over the place -

Chuck Bryant: Right. It's a plug feast.

Josh Clark: - in this podcast, Chuck. Yeah, it is a plug feast, Chuck, and our listeners can read all the articles we've plugged today - all on howstuffworks.com.

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