Bricks, Pickup trucks and Ostriches

I don’t do serious all that well and knowing that someone smiled at something I’ve said or written always gives me a warm fuzzy.  Unfortunately, I’m in a mood today so I see a temporary reduction of warm fuzzies in my immediate future.

Since my novel Chara’s Promise was published, one of the questions that keeps cropping up is whether I truly believe that climate change is a problem or whether I simply used it as a plot device.  I suppose that’s a reasonable question and one that deserves an answer.  The problem is that I can’t come up with a good way to be humorous about it and still get my point across.  So, I’m dropping the “entertaining” requirement for this post and, at the risk of alienating fifty percent of the population of the United States, slipping into serious mode.

Yes Virginia, climate change is real and human activity is the major contributing factor.  For decades, scientists have warned us that mankind was driving our little planet to a major climate change.  In the early years the number of scientists ringing the bell was few and they were usually dismissed as Chicken Littles crying warnings about a failing sky.  That changed when NASA scientist James Hansen added his voice.  Hansen earned his props for climate expertise in the seventies when he studied and wrote a variety of papers on the atmosphere of Venus and how it came to be so deadly.  Starting in the eighties, Hansen turned his focus to the Earth and built a reputation as one of the preeminent climate experts in the world.  His work was a clarion call that galvanized the climate community and caught the interest of people and politicians.  I couldn’t begin to discuss the subject or present the arguments as well as he did in his book Storms of My Grandchildren, so I won’t try.  Buy it, borrow it, read it.  There is no scientist who has more credibility than Dr. Hansen on this subject and his conclusions are chilling.  You really need to hear what he has to say.

Despite that, there are still a number of well respected scientists who question the existence of global warming, question its effects or question whether humans have an impact on it.  Their numbers are dropping, but they’re still there.  A case in point is Richard Muller who is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley.  In 2004 he wrote an article questioning the methodology used to analyze climate data.  While he stopped short of denying climate change, he did raise serious concerns about how much impact human activities contributed to it.  Over the next six years or so, the climate change skeptics latched onto Muller like drowning men clinging to a life raft.  Then, in 2011, Muller wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal based on the results of his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project.  He said in part:

“Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.”

Less than a year later he wrote another op-ed for WSJ in which he stated clearly:

“Global warming is real …. Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

I’m guessing he’s not going to get as many Christmas cards this year.

You’d think that might be enough to turn the tide of public opinion.  But recent surveys still show that nearly fifty percent of the folks in the United States still doubt that global warming exists and, of the ones that do admit its existence, a significant portion still doubt whether mankind contributes to it.  I think part of the problem is that the average person’s eyes glaze over when you start to talk about science, data and statistics.  It reminds them too much of Mr. Price’s earth science class when they were in the eighth grade.  What with puberty, zits and ninth graders, eighth grade is a tough enough time for adolescents.  Earth science just made it worse and thinking about earth science makes most people shut down.  What we need is a good analogy that reminds people of something they like.  I like my little pickup truck, so I’m going to go there.

I have a truck that has a gross vehicle weight of 5000 pounds.  The truck itself weighs 3500 pounds and a full tank of gas and a couple of full size adults add another 500 pounds.  That leaves me about 1000 pounds for cargo.  Most of the time, that’s more than enough for anything I need to carry.

A while back, the wife and I made a trip to the Lowe’s Home Improvement store down the road.  My plan was to spend some quality time drooling over the power tools.  Hers apparently was to leaf through the “How To” books in an effort to find something useful that I could do with said power tools.  Unfortunately, she latched onto a book that illustrated how to build a brick fireplace/grill on your patio.  I hate “How To” books.

I spent the next few evenings drawing plans for her new addition, and on Friday afternoon I made a trip back to Lowe’s in Robby, my faithful, ever willing Ford Ranger, for supplies.  Lowe’s didn’t have the brick, but I did get the mortar, framing supplies and a few tools.  Robby squatted a little with the load, but I wasn’t worried; he’d never let me down.  After going back home to unload, off I went to Bubba’s Brick Supply to get the key ingredient.  Please remember that “1000 pounds” comment I made a couple of paragraphs back.

I walked into Bubba’s and told him that I needed to buy 400 red bricks.  “Sure,” he replied.  “Where do you want us to deliver them?”

Being a frugal Scot and not wanting to add the $120 delivery charge onto the bill, I said, “I don’t need them delivered.  Just load them into the bed of my pickup truck.”

Bubba’s eyes opened up a bit and he glanced out the window to see what I was driving.  Then he tilted his head forward and his glasses slid down a bit on his nose.  “You want me to load 2200 pounds of brick into that little Ranger?” he asked incredulously.

That slowed me down for a second.  I looked at Robby, then back at Bubba and then back at Robby again.  Finally I answered, “Robby can handle it.  I’m only going a few miles and there aren’t any hills.  But, just to be safe let’s load 200 bricks first and then add the rest 25 at a time.”

“Mister, I’m telling you, that little truck can’t handle that much weight.  Something’s gonna bust.”

“Nah, it’ll be fine.  Heck, the truck itself weighs way more than 2200 pounds.  If Robby can handle that, he can handle anything I can load into the bed.”

Bubba just shook his head, took my money and told one of the guys to get the forklift.  When they pulled up with the load of bricks I was heartened.  The forklift was much smaller than Robby.  If it could lift the bricks, it’d be a piece of cake for the Ranger.

We loaded 200 bricks onto an empty pallet and sat it in the bed.  Robby squeaked and squatted but nothing broke.  Then, slowly we added the rest of the bricks, 25 at a time.  When we were done, Robby was well passed squatting.  His front end was several inches higher than the back and the walls of the tires were bulging.  Bubba looked at me plaintively and shook his head once more.

“It’ll be fine,” I said with quite a bit less conviction than before.  “It’s only a few miles.”

I crawled into the cab, started the engine and dropped the transmission into drive.  The transmission groaned, but Robby started to move.  The steering didn’t feel right; there wasn’t much resistance when I turned the wheel.  Undaunted, I made the turn onto the main road and headed for home, whispering encouragement to Robby with every foot that we went.   Our speed increased—ten miles per hour, then twenty and finally thirty.  Maybe we’d make it home after all.  Unconsciously I started to sing a child’s song—I think I can, I think I can.

Suddenly from the right side I heard a creak, followed by a loud crack.  The truck pitched right momentarily until a similar pair of sounds came from the left and the truck shifted back the other direction.  Almost immediately I heard two deafening pops.  I hit the brakes and Robby skidded to a stop.

I was still within sight of Bubba’s place.  He saw it all happen and started running towards where I was stopped.  By the time he got there I was outside the truck and surveying the damage.  The leaf spring shackles on both sides had broken.  When that happened and the bed dropped, the added pressure had caused the tires to break the bead and go flat.  Robby was sitting in the middle of the highway with a broken suspension and flat on the rims.

Bubba looked at me with an “I told you expression”, shook his head once more and spent the next thirty minutes helping me unload the bricks from the truck.  Then we called a wrecker to tow Robby to the shop and I made arrangements for Bubba to deliver the bricks to our house in the morning.

Like Robby’s weight rating, the Earth has climatic influences, the sun and volcanic activity come to mind, which are built into the system.  We can’t do anything about those factors, but that’s OK because the planet is in enough of an ecological equilibrium to handle the impact that temporary changes from those factors can cause.  Humans are the wildcard.  The Earth doesn’t have self repair mechanisms capable of handling the additional, sustained ecological load that inventive humans can conjure up.

I’ve heard commentators and had friends tell me that it’s arrogant for mere humans to think that there is anything we can do to make a long term impact on the Earth or to interfere with God and nature’s plan for her.  Personally, I think it’s arrogant and short sighted for us not to recognize the fact that we can.  Like I did with Robby, mankind is making a conscious decision to overload our environment.  It’s a mistake and it’s one that can and will cause us to “break” our little planet.

Read James Hansen’s book.  If you don’t agree with him fine, at least it’ll be an educated decision.  If you don’t read it, or do other research to examine the problem, then you’ll be basing your opinion on the thoughts of bureaucrats, politicians and political pundits who have questionable objectives and dubious track records for accuracy.  There’s not much difference between that and being an ostrich.  Sticking your head in the sand never seemed like a good defensive position to me.  It makes your ass way too vulnerable.

See Ya

Note: For those pickup truck activists in the audience, the above referenced story about Robby and the load of bricks was a fabrication for the purposes of analogy.  No pickup trucks were harmed for the making of this post.  I like Robby too much to do that.

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