What’s With This Damn Heat Wave?

The heat is getting to me. I am not a heat person. I never have been. When I was a kid my mom made me take tennis classes. I mean, it kind of made sense. My physical coordination as a kid was terrible. Small motor, large motor, hand-eye, you name it, it sucked.

We lived in the south suburbs of Chicago, and not one of the pricey ones. We had a district psychologist and a school speech pathologist, but there was not a whole lot of other support for individual differences. The treatment for dyspraxia is occupational therapy. Since no one had this knowledge and this was the days before the Web and Google, my teachers and mom figured that it was just a matter of forcing me to work on these skills. Generally in front of an audience, like with tennis lessons.

Also my mom fantasized about us getting out of the south suburbs and moving someplace else in the suburbs, where I’d be more in touch with people who play tennis as a hobby. She envisioned me in my tennis whites with my friends Miffy and Muffy or whatever playing tennis and sipping on lemonade at the tennis club after after the match. That is totally not me, but you know we have our dreams.

One of my dreams is of being a professional writer someday. I hope I will be more lucky with my dreams for me than she was with her dreams for me.

Come to think of it, she wanted me to be professional writer, too. But I digress.

One day my mom decided to come with me for my tennis lesson. I don’t know if she was showing an interest in the tennis lessons, or if she was going to prove to me that it wasn’t too hot to do something that frustrating in front of an audience. Not only was this the days before Google. This was the days before people brought water bottles with them everywhere. So I got dehydrated and hot and miserable and I started to show signs of heat-related illness, so my mom realized that I wasn’t just being a whiny little kid. So she took me home from tennis lessons and put me in a cool bath three my body temperature down and after that she never maybe go to tennis lessons if the temperature was over 90 (which wasn’t that often. I mean, the temperature around there peaked at 76 today. .

Anyway so I’ve never been one for heat, and boy is it hot!

The atmosphere of the planet used to have more carbon dioxide than it does now. Like, a lot more. We’re talking close to 10 times as much. There are so few large dinosaur fossils at the equator because it was an inhospitable climate for for large lizards. It was so hot that vegetation would basically just burst into flame. So things have been worse than they are now. I have a friend with an anxiety problem who is all, “we’ve destroyed the planet; everything’s going to hell in a hand basket” and while I agree that things are going to hell in a handbasket from late-stage capitalism, we aren’t irretrievably bad in terms of climate yet.

The current theory is that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was sequestered by a fern called azolla. The mechanism by which it worked, from what I’ve read, was that the Arctic Ocean was closed off like the Black Sea is today. Azolla got established there and covered the surface. The azolla would die and sink to the bottom and new azolla would form at the top. This tiny fern gobbles up carbon dioxide and also is in a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria that makes it fix nitrogen in addition to sequestering the carbon dioxide. Anyway as the plants died they sink to the bottom of this isolated stagnant basically pond and more would form on the top and it would die and sink more before eventually it ended up with all this like built-up azolla, which then compressed and eventually turned into oil. This, by the way, is why I have problems with people saying that oil is dinosaurs. Oil is not dinosaurs. Oil is ferns.

At some point, either the azolla must have spread, because we have oil here in Texas (which used to be covered by ocean) and there is oil in Venezuela, and of course, there’s the Persian Gulf. It must have done the same thing there — died and sank and died and sank.

During what is now called the Azolla Event, it cut the levels of carbon dioxide way down. And now we’re burning the azolla that sequestered that carbon dioxide and putting it back in the atmosphere, where it came from originally. This will return the Earth to the state it was originally. Unfortunately, current forms of life evolved during an ice age, so we’re headed to a place that’s natural, but incompatible with many current lifeforms. I guess there may be some people out there who are, like, it’s natural, so let’s just let it go back to the way it was originally. But most of us like our ice age. We like a world with caribou and penguins, and people not dying from heat-related illness.

So for those of us who like glaciers and polar bears and not reviving microorganisms that have been frozen in ice for millions of years, resequestering that carbon dioxide is a priority.

I’ve traditionally donated to a Nature Conservancy project called Plant a Billion Trees. The original plan was to plant a billion trees, just like it says on the tin. Their original deadline was 2015, but they didn’t make it. I usually give to planting trees in Brazil, where the Nature Conservancy is trying to restore the Atlantic Rainforest. In fact, since I dictated this, I gave another $25. Each dollar plants a tree (and, of course, helps buy land and things).

Each tree will sequester about a ton of carbon dioxide, which is no slouch, but for a long time, I’ve been wondering about trying to intentionally replicate the Azolla Event. With its nitrogen-fixing qualities, azolla makes a good fertilizer. Some people are also cooking with it, though I’m not so sure about that. One big warning, though. Azolla spreads. Quickly. So if I (or someone else) were to try to grow azolla for this purpose, it needs to be kept in something enclosed. I have a one-cubic-foot fish tank hanging around, which I’m thinking about using for this purpose. My father will be horrified because it will be unsightly. But no one but us will see it. I figure that once the tank is full, I can pull the azolla out, dry it off, and compost it. Then, once I’m sure it’s really dead, I can spread it around in my yard as a fertilizer. By my calculations, it should fill up every month or two. I mean, sequestering carbon dioxide one cubic foot at a time won’t help much, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

I don’t think I’ve read any books on global warming, so next up on my list of Gratuitous Amazon Links is The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan. We’re heading in to the home stretch of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Of course, the Riordanverse is just getting started.

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