Meltdown

It is one hundred in the shade and the world is melting down at least, I am. The power is down. There is no air-conditioning, no phone system, no computer network and no lights. This happens–and frequently–when the temperature makes things sizzle and everyone everywhere turns the air-conditioning to high cool. The power system simply says, “No more.” Today the outage, not the heat wave, has been planned. PG&E is systematically turning off power for a few hours here, then a few hours there, in an organized way rather than letting it crash on its own.

Through my open office door I can hear the voices of children engaged in a dinosaur program. The windows are closed to let in the light and keep out the heat as long as possible. The students are learning about the lives of that diverse group of creatures who lived at a time when sea plants and animals started turning into the power supply that is so obviously absent today.

The remains of those creatures, minute to gigantic, that lived long ago shoulder the power supply we have come to take for granted.  Here we are millions of years later relying on animals and plants that lived so long ago we can hardly imagine it. Those animals have become beasts of burden carrying our power needs on their backs. It is only when that power suddenly vanishes that we realize our reliance on things past.

I think of the fish in their tanks in the other room with the kids. The pumps that supply air to the water that makes their lives possible have ceased. The “lakes” or “ponds” their aquaria provide for them are small. They can heat up as fast as an ice cube can melt in a glass of water on a warm day. In weather this hot, the water may warm up so much in an afternoon it will spell death for the fish.

If they die, the fish in our aquaria will not fall and decay on the bottom of the ocean. They will not be buried and pressed under layers of sediment. They will not be baked by the heat deep beneath the earth’s mantle. They will not turn into petroleum. If they die, they will end up in the dump. Deposited in the garbage, taken to the landfill, they will be unceremoniously plowed under.

But what of that dump with its amazing remains of our population gone wild? Will it not, in a time period equal to that since the dinosaurs, go down under? Be buried and pressed? Be heated and baked? Be trapped in a layer and transformed far beneath the new earth? What will it become, the old sofas and lampshades, computers and cars, diapers and license plates, toilets and tires–and fish–melted and mixed? Will this amalgam some millions of years from now form a substance to power mighty cities?

The lights are back on. The children are gone, the fish still alive. The temperature is dropping. But still I know the melt down continues.

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