liberator Happy International Women’s Day!

This picture really has nothing to do with International Women’s Day. I am not certain that the goddess here would feel very liberated with that tin corset, sword, and shield restricting her movement as she cycles, not to mention the wind chill factor involved in cycling topless. And her hair might get caught in the spokes, too.

But this picture does remind me of the very interesting fact I just learned: a rubber tire is one molecule.

Are you as totally amazed by this as I am? Here is a page explaining it.

I learned this from The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman, the book I have been reading in alternation with the Napoleon biography. I have given up novels for Lent, you see.

The World Without Us begins with the idea that all humans are gone. It doesn’t speculate too much on how this might happen, and is therefore able to be pretty cheerful about the whole thing. The humans have taken off for other planets, been caught up in the clouds with Jesus, robots killed us all — doesn’t matter. We’re just gone. This happened where I live.There were some prehistoric people here, but now they are all gone. No one actually knows what happened to them, though there are lots of speculations. By the time anybody was writing stuff down, some new people (whom we call “Native Americans”) had moved down from the Ohio River Valley, but the first ones had simply disappeared. Weisman starts out by supposing that the same thing happens all over the earth.

He can then dwell lovingly on how the subterranean water would take back New York City, with a river running down Lexington Avenue within about a week, and how Texas would explode and burn but then the Brazos and the sea would reclaim it, with the help of oil-eating microbes. A nuclear winter might envelop the Gulf Coast for a while, but eventually happy mosquitoes would find it a wondrous playground.

Our buildings would decay pretty quickly, especially modern structures. Nowadays, engineers use computers to figure out just exactly how flimsy they can make a thing without regretting it very quickly, and that is how flimsy they make it. In the past, people just figured they had better make things really strong, in case, so the old stuff would last a bit longer. Plants would get busy, though, and most of our things could be eaten, so our empty spaces would refill after a while.

The trouble would be with plastics. Until plastics, stuff generally would get eaten (by some creature, including microbes, which is what we mean by “biodegradable”) or reused eventually. Plastic is different. Every single bit of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence. Lots of it is hanging around in its original form, but lots more gets weathered just as rocks do, and our world is filling up with plastic sand. Sea creatures and birds are now full of little tiny bits of plastic, because they eat it. Some die from it. Some don’t, or haven’t yet. We have no idea what the eventual result of this will be.

Some of the folks who study this figure that microbes will evolve to eat plastic, and all will be well. Others figure that geologic pressures (you know, the stuff that turns old dead things into diamonds and oil) will do something, but we don’t know what. Some think that plastic is probably permanent, while others assume that it will break down eventually and then will release further toxins into the environment.

We have also filled our soil and water with poisons and heavy metals, some of which we mined and released and some of which we made all by ourselves. This is in our soil now (there is a set of test gardens in England where they’ve kept records and samples since 1843, so there is excellent evidence for this point), and so of course also in our food and water. Again, this is all so recent that we don’t know what effect this might have in the long run.

But if we all left for some reason, and then something else sentient came along, they might think that we had set out to poison ourselves.

Which reminds me that I need to go buy food now. It is better not to think about the lead concentration in soil, not to mention plutonium and PCBs and DDT, when you are heading out to do the grocery shopping. I must also get to the post office and do some housework, and in the afternoon I will be joining The Chemist to figure out how to organize the music at the church with computers and file drawers.

This will be in the nature of an archaeological dig, I think. As far as we know, no one has actually turned those computers on in years. We don’t know what they have in them. I have a new bit of Microsoft to review for Amazon, which I plan to take along. We have someone who has offered to input data for us, but of course we have to have compatible software in order to be able to carry disks back and forth. And the offer to type stuff doesn’t include coming to the church to type it, so we will have to have not only compatible software, but some way to get the data that needs inputting to the volunteer in question. The file drawers were organized by a very idiosyncratic system long ago, and have been gently devolving ever since.

It should be an interesting project.

And I am still knitting sleeves for Erin. I am knitting backwards from directions in The Handy Book, which I am hoping will fit the changes I made to Erin in order to vitiate its refrigerator-like look. I do not know how this will turn out. Unlike arsenic in the topsoil and plastic pellets in the ocean, however, I can undo it if it turns out to be a mistake.