A Short History of Burning Shit

Global Warming for those who aren’t climate scientists

 

Many people today seem to think that Global Warming is something new, something that we discovered just a short time ago, from an historical perspective, and that we just haven’t had enough time to study it to decide whether it’s true or not. Other people, those who feed on conspiracy theory and tabloid journalism, believe that the “scientific community” (ecological fascists) are making it all up in order to rake in billions in research grants by living and playing in the arctic, which we all know is the fun place to be, partying on the ice flows, frolicking with starving Polar Bears, and loving every bogus minute of it, because you never need to bring your own ice for your cooler.

Or, this same scientific community is all part of some global socialist conspiracy bent on destroying capitalism and enslaving us all under the yoke of having to give a shit about our neighbors, instead of walking into open manholes while texting our friends about shooting some guy in the supermarket while standing our ground over our place in the express line. But this is too much paranoia even for me, so back to the original topic; is Global Warming influenced by humans? And how long ago did we notice it?

Some time ago I watched a video on the internet of an old television program about Global Warming and how human use of fossil fuels contributed to it. The date that the program first aired? 1957. Yes. 1957. That seems to put paid the theory that human influenced Global Warming is some new invention during the last decade by Al Gore and a bunch of climate scientists attempting to divert human wealth away from our purchase of I-Phones, thereby depriving us of our cool apps, but the interesting question is how long has human influenced Global Warming really been happening? Those of you with any common sense already know: since the first time we struck flint to stone, and created fire for ourselves, as opposed to finding it naturally.

What was the Earth’s relationship to fire before the day our primitive ancestors discovered, probably quite by accident, while flint napping stone tools, that they could create fire and carry the tools with them to create it wherever and whenever necessary, the Stone Age Zippo, although it didn’t come close to lighting the first time every time.

It doesn’t take much imagination, or common sense, to see what the Earth’s relationship was to fire before humanity’s invention of created fire. Of course, before man, fire occurred due to natural forces, the only three that I can think of being volcanism, meteor strikes, and lightning strikes. And of these three, only one, lightning strikes, occurs with any frequency, the other two being (fortunately) exceedingly rare.

In the United States, there are about 100,000 wildfires each year. But, before we jump out of our chairs and shout, “See! It’s not us!” we should remember that ninety percent of those wildfires are started by humans, so apparently, Smokey the Bear never made that much of an impression on us as kids. But it does give us a rough figure of how many fires nature starts each year, at least in the United States of Cookout.

It seems, according to data that scientists can interpret about historical global temperatures, that the Earth’s circulatory system was able to absorb the carbon from these natural occurring fires without a problem. And even after the 2,000,000 humans (depending on your information source) of 10,000 years ago invented the cookout, it seemed that the earth was still able to deal with the extra carbon in the atmosphere. After all, it’s a big atmosphere (although not as thick as you might imagine), and if the average family group was, say, five, that’s only 400,000 extra fires worldwide, and small campfires at that, so it probably didn’t add that much extra carbon into the atmosphere.

When we needed to extract metal from rocks, having discovered that stone tools broke too much, and that sucked, we then needed more fire to shape said metal into weapons and tools, and our need for fire began its exponential increase, which has grown ever since the Bronze and Iron Ages. Stone Age campfires quickly gave way to Copper, Bronze, and then Iron Age kilns, and, as any half-educated fool knows, an arms race, which each of these periods represents, is one of the biggest spurs to advancing human technology. No one wanted to bring a Bronze sword to an Iron sword fight. Now, we needed bigger fires, and hotter ones at that. Hotter fires required longer burning fires, before we discovered better fuels than wood, and, like you, I have no idea how, or when, we discovered coal as a fuel to burn, Google says it was the Chinese 4000 years ago, but once we did, our use of fire to make things proliferated like a viral video.

Even this probably didn’t represent that much of a threat to the atmosphere’s ability to absorb the extra carbon, because world population estimates are around 7 million people around that time, and we were still using fire in the traditional ways: to heat our homes, cook food, and make simple tools and weapons from metal. Even then, not every home had its own blacksmith, that job requires a certain skill and mind set, so there was usually one blacksmith per town, with more blacksmiths required for cities. And this manner of using fire perpetuated itself for a much longer period than most people imagine, without much change taking place, except for the ever present increase in the size of human populations. Remember, in 1776, when the country doomed to fail in multiple attempts to invade Canada was born, the largest weapons technology complex of the time was the Ship of the Line, and wind propelled those bad boys.

The arrival of the steam engine was the game changer that propelled us into what we now fondly call the “Industrial Age.” Now, not only could we use fire to make even bigger things, warm bigger homes, and cook huge meals, we could use fire to move things, and numbers of manufacturers  jumped on the steam bandwagon as soon as the Boulton and Watt steam engine patent expired in 1800. The first steam-powered railroad appeared in England in 1804, and by 1869, two railroads joined the eastern and western United States of White People, which then spread shiny tentacles across one of the largest landmasses on earth, ensuring the displacement of those heathen pagans we found, with all their live in symbiosis with nature misconceptions. Now, we were truly empowered in our quest to conquer nature, and make life safe, comfortable, and happy, for us.

Steam trains chugged across the world, steamships plied the vast oceans, but, unfortunately, steam was impractical for personal transportation, so we were still dependant on ugly old horses for little transportation jobs, and that led to a very vile form of pollution that corrupted cities throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries: horse pollution.

Yes, horse pollution. Horse crap was literally piling everywhere during the centuries before the early twentieth. There were, of course, entire industries involved in the removal of horse crap, but it was still there until you picked it up, and living near where they dumped it must have brought a completely new meaning to the word landfill, because they had to dump it somewhere before selling it to farmers as fertilizer. Fortunately, a large portion of society was still agrarian, so at least there were end users to try to utilize all this crap, once they had read the E.U.L.A. agreement, I suppose.

This all brought about the invention of one of man’s greatest double-edged swords, the internal combustion engine, and this invention ratcheted burning to new levels, once it became firmly established as the end to horse pollution by one of America’s own: Henry Ford. It was the invention of the gasoline engine automobile that sent man’s use of fire to truly unimaginable levels. There had been steam versions previously, but it was the combination of gasoline engines, which made the engines small and easy to fuel, and low cost to the consumer due to assembly line production, that took Americans out of their horse propelled buggies, and put their butts into cars. Old Henry put a Ford Model T in front of the average person’s home, and, without knowing, started one of the world’s longest burning, continuous, man-made fires. Remember, horses might crap a lot, but they needed to sleep; now we had transportation systems (and therefore industries) that could churn twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, depending upon economic demand.

Yet, even the huge bonfires of industry and internal combustion transportation combined account today for slightly less than half of the emissions our burning puts into the atmosphere each year, and that brings us to another large continuously burning fire: the generation of electricity. The generation of electricity today accounts for thirty percent of our total emissions from burning, the primary fuels used in its production being coal and natural gas, which account for sixty-six percent of the fuels used to generate our electricity.

Like most of our technologies, our use of electricity started as experimental parlor tricks, and then grew as more widespread practical applications were found, one of the first being the light bulb. Like the automobile, this little item ended a form of pollution, and it also enhanced safety, because it replaced two other forms of lighting in our homes: oil lamps, which smelled bad when they burned; and gaslight, which could lead, at times, to your house blowing up if the gaslights or their connections leaked, which could ruin family read your books night.

Soon, electricity took over industry, lit the world, and then perpetrated one of the greatest hostile takeovers of all time; it usurped print as our primary form of communication. It didn’t take long either, newspapers were the world’s communication medium of choice for many decades, but a series of inventions appeared in the first half of the Twentieth Century which ensured that by today the piles of newspapers at the newsstand of the 1900s would become the less than a dozen you find in many stores today. Further, this group of technologies all drew their life-pulse from electricity: the telephone, the radio, the television, and the computer.

Even though these devices are often small, compared to industrial plants, or modern earth-moving machines, their influence is huge, because of the proliferation of their numbers. Remember, even countries that aren’t industrialized still possess cell phones, televisions, and computers, all of which require the generation of electricity. The 1300 residents of Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean possess 600 television sets, almost one for every two people. Think about that, one television for every two people on an island you can barely see on Google maps.

Two of these devices, the television and the computer, keep the home fires burning more than any two other devices in your home combined, simply because you constantly leave them turned on, even when they’re not in use. Also, most homes have more than one of these devices, in many homes the number is sometimes more than one per room, at least with computers, if not televisions.

Still the television probably nudges the computer aside when it comes to pure waste of energy when it is left turned on, because most computers have sleep modes to control their use of energy, but a television will happily watch itself all night long if you let it. I borrowed that one from my father, who like most heads of households in his generation, constantly questioned his children’s waste of money and energy with questions like, “Is that TV watching itself?” I know people who use television sets as night-lights, which has to be the most expensive versions of that device ever created, but even this use isn’t the most wasteful way people watch television. I have walked through numbers of homes where the TV in each room was tuned to the same station so that the person living there could walk from room to room watching their favorite show without interruption.

It’s so easy to forget that all of this electronic consumption comes at the price of burning shit to create the electricity needed, but it’s really time, almost past time, for us to start remembering how much carbon we’re pumping into our atmosphere every day, simply to talk about ourselves at an unconscionable level, and make life easy and convenient for us, but that’s the reason I started writing this piece in the first place. We cannot afford to continue to forget, or to continue to ignore the warnings of those we hold as the great, global, socialist conspirators: climate scientists.

It is easy to see, if you’ve actually read this short history, how we got to this place in time. We have been dumping extra carbon into the atmosphere since ancient times, and the levels we’ve added have increased exponentially since the beginnings of the industrial revolution with each new major innovation. You just need common sense in order to see it, and you don’t need scientists to provide you with piles of evidence, or huge databases of temperatures, any more than you need stacks of reports from burn victims to tell you that you shouldn’t stick your hand on a hot stove burner. The old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” wasn’t ever about horses, it was about humans, so I know there are many people out there that my words will never reach, because they’re so wedded to their preconceptions that even common sense can’t affect them, but I’m not really writing to them. I’m writing to the vast majority of people, to whom common sense is still something to be admired and used in the discussion of the problems we face today, those people that common sense can still reach, and those people who still care a little bit more about others, especially children, than they care about themselves. The rest can go blindly on, snapping pictures of themselves in front of dead dolphins on the beach and I don’t care. No words from me, or anyone else, will ever reach people that selfish and narcissistic.

Personally, I view global climate scientists as similar to a guy standing on the curb trying to warn you that you’re walking, texting on your I-Phone, with your kids in tow, straight into the path of an oncoming bus. And the reaction of many of you to that warning is to turn around and give the guy the finger, even as the bus crushes your dreams and the dreams of your children. There is no great, global, socialist conspiracy, and whether there is, or not, is irrelevant to this conversation. For those with common sense, the shrinking numbers still out there, the real question is what can I do about all this?

The answer is twofold, and quite simple. First, as my daddy used to do all the time, because he had to work overtime to pay for it all, think about the energy you’re using right now, and turn off some of the things drawing power, if you’re no longer using them. Although I know some of these will be familiar to people, and, in fact, they’ve probably heard them all their lives from their own parents, I’ll repeat my father’s favorite lines, because they applied in the 1960s, apply more than ever today, and represent our most common forms of wasted energy.

“I’m not paying to heat the back yard!” This one was one of my favorites, and took on a new meaning for Dad during the depths of winter whenever our friends came over to visit and were afraid to come into the house, because Dad was home, so we’d happily talk to our friends on the doorstep, my sisters, brothers, or I, basking in the warmth inside, while our friends shivered in the cold a few feet away, trying, in vain, to convince us to come out. Of course, in the sixties we never even heard about global warming, so we at least had the excuse of ignorance. How many times have you caught yourself doing something akin to this: leaving a door open during the winter, because you had to make multiple trips from your car to your house with purchases, or leaving a door opened on a hot summer day with your air-conditioning running, while you brought groceries inside, because you were too lazy to open and close that door? I know I have, but lately, because I’m more aware of it now, I can clearly hear my father’s words in the back of my mind, admonishing me to stop being the lazy boy that he knew I was, and hearing those words, especially the word “boy,” I stop and close the door, even though it is a little more work.

“That TV can’t watch itself!” I know I mentioned this one before, but it is my favorite, and the battle Dad had to fight most often in a family with six absent-minded kids. Perhaps, someday, television manufacturers will produce a television that can sense when no human is in the room and turn itself off, thus bringing about one of my father’s greatest dreams, hopefully without issues of invasion of privacy by television manufacturers, or hackers. I know cats and dogs sometimes watch them, but they’ll find something else to do if the television isn’t on. In fact, sometimes I’ve seen them staring at a blank screen, especially cats, so this may be a subtle animal commentary on today’s television content.

“Turn off the lights when you leave a room! The room isn’t afraid of the dark. Like you are, you big baby!” Dad never did much for my self-esteem, but he did have the excuse he was trying to make his wimpy son into a man, and he was essentially correct; inanimate objects, plants, and domesticated animals don’t appear to be afraid of the dark, so they’ll be okay if you turn that light off.

The second thing we have to do will require more of our time and energy, but it’s even more important, because it requires of us that we do our own research, and then take the information we obtain into the voting booth. If you can see now that we are warming the atmosphere, and accept scientists’ warnings that we are destroying the environment in which our children and grandchildren will have to live, then it is our duty to select those governmental representatives who will respect our views, and act now to change things, even if this change requires some sacrifice from us. No one is asking us to abandon modern society and return to the eighteen hundreds. Like you, I have grown tired of people who even put forth arguments like that, but we don’t have to listen to them. We must control our use of energy every day and find alternative sources for our energy supplies, sources that don’t require the burning of fossil fuels, like solar energy, and wind energy. If we cannot find it within ourselves to care about our own children, then I don’t know what history will say about us. Many call my father’s generation the “Greatest Generation,” because of the sacrifices that they made for others during the Second World War. I can think of many labels that future generations will have for a group of people so undereducated that they can’t understand the difference between climate and weather, but I really don’t think “Greatest Generation” will be on the list.

If I drive my car at one hundred miles an hour down a dark road at night, miss a turn, crash, and severely injure myself, you’ll all laugh at me for being an idiot, and comment that I simply got what I deserved for my stupidity. If I do the same thing with my kids strapped into the back seat, you’ll call me a criminal, and shout for my swift punishment. Yet, If I do the same thing with your kids strapped alongside mine, you’ll be looking for a length of rope and a tree limb high enough to hang me, injured, or not, and it’s perfectly understandable why you would. By ignoring people trained in the scientific method of observation, testing, and conclusion based on that testing, in favor of those who merely know what they believe, or want to believe, we are just like the guy racing down that dark road with a back seat full of kids, and we deserve the same kind of judgment that we would impose on that idiot.

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