Thursday, 29 October 2020

A modern-day fairy tale

"One crisp winter morning in Sweden, a cute little girl named Greta woke up to a perfect world, one where there were no petroleum products ruining the earth. She tossed aside her cotton sheet and wool blanket and stepped out onto a dirt floor covered with willow bark that had been pulverized with rocks. 

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Pulverised willow bark,” replied her fairy godmother.

“What happened to the carpet?” she asked.

“The carpet was nylon, which is made from butadiene and hydrogen cyanide, both made from petroleum,” came the response.

Greta smiled, acknowledging that adjustments are necessary to save the planet, and moved to the sink to brush her teeth where instead of a toothbrush, she found a willow, mangled on one end to expose wood fibre bristles.

“Your old toothbrush?” noted her godmother, “Also nylon.”

“Where’s the water?” asked Greta.

“Down the road in the canal,” replied her godmother, ‘Just make sure you avoid water with cholera in it”

“Why’s there no running water?” Greta asked, becoming a little peevish.

“Well,” said her godmother, who happened to teach engineering at MIT, “Where do we begin?” There followed a long monologue about how sink valves need elastomer seats and how copper pipes contain copper, which has to be mined and how it’s impossible to make all-electric earth-moving equipment with no gear lubrication or tyres and how ore has to be smelted to make metal, and that’s tough to do with only electricity as a source of heat, and even if you use only electricity, the wires need insulation, which is petroleum-based, and though most of Sweden’s energy is produced in an environmentally friendly way because of hydro and nuclear, if you do a mass and energy balance around the whole system, you still need lots of petroleum products like lubricants and nylon and rubber for tires and asphalt for filling potholes and wax and iPhone plastic and elastic to hold your underwear up while operating a copper smelting furnace and . . .

“What’s for breakfast?” interjected Greta, whose head was hurting.

"Fresh, range-fed chicken eggs,” replied her godmother. 

"Mmm," said Greta.


“How so, raw?” inquired Greta.

“Well, . . .” And once again, Greta was told about the need for petroleum products like transformer oil and scores of petroleum products essential for producing metals for frying pans and in the end was educated about how you can’t have a petroleum-free world and then cook eggs. Unless you rip your front fence up and start a fire and carefully cook your egg in an orange peel like you do in Boy Scouts. Not that you can find oranges in Sweden anymore.

“But I want poached eggs like my Aunt Tilda makes,” lamented Greta.

“Tilda died this morning,” the godmother explained. “Bacterial pneumonia.”

“What?!” interjected Greta. “No one dies of bacterial pneumonia! We have penicillin.”

“Not anymore,” explained her godmother “The production of penicillin requires chemical extraction using isobutyl acetate, which, if you know your organic chemistry, is petroleum-based. Lots of people are dying, which is problematic because there’s not an easy way of disposing of the bodies since backhoes need hydraulic oil and crematoriums can’t really burn many bodies, using as fuel Swedish fences and furniture, which are rapidly disappearing - being used on the black market for roasting eggs and staying warm.”

This represents only a fraction of Greta’s day, a day without microphones to exclaim into and a day without much food, and a day without carbon-fibre boats to sail in, but a day that will save the planet.
Tune in tomorrow when Greta needs a root canal and learns how Novocain is synthesised."

[Author unknown. Hat tip Louise LaMontagne]


  1. That actually downplays the risks. For example: A major risk involved in getting water, especially in cold climates, was drowning. Fetching water from a stream involves climbing over slick, uneven surfaces, and many, many women drowned when they fell in and their cloths became waterlogged. Worse, in cold water your body has an immediate reaction to gasp--filling the lungs with water just above freezing.

    They did cook a lot of eggs. Usually a fire was kept going year-round, and to cook you'd just heat a flat rock (or a cast-iron pan, which can be made with entirely naturally-found materials and a little ingenuity) and cook the egg on that. Or boil it in a pot. "Pot" comes from the same root as pottery, for the same reason: in the past, most cookware was ceramic. It also was the most expensive thing the average family owned.

    Fire was always a hazard. Natural building materials tend to be heavily plant-based, and things like thatch and wood tend to go up in flames quite readily. When your sources of heat and light were open flames, and you were wearing natural fibers, fire was a constant threat.

  2. More of this, the war on fossil fuels also means an end to steel production. The campaign to reduce emissions is now a campaign to end emissions, and therefore end modern industrial society - except of course some countries, like China and India, aren't ready to tell their people that they should go backwards.

    1. Yes, if we can just move the emissions, the effects of mining, refining the minerals etc, to places where it doesn't affect "us", but someone else, we can live in a "clean" environment using "clean" EV cars, using "clean" wind power, ignoring the dirty mess the production of them leaves behind, like the neodymium and prosedymium mines, the resulting radioactive sludge, the open strip-mines for lithium etc. As long as it doesn't happen in our back-yard, we should all be fine.. The lack of education and hypocrisy, or even willful ignorance among some of the "environmentalists", is quite astounding.

  3. A very perceptive viewpoint. I wonder why the WHO hasn't invited Greta to give them some tips with regard to managing the CoVID pandemic.


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