World of Thermo…. Story 7. Act One for Carbo

Story 7                     Act One for Carbo

Carbo was having a great time with his fellow molecules. He roamed the Earth, making sure that more of his kind continually spilled into the atmosphere. It wasn’t a hard job; in fact, by the year 1880 the humans were doing it for him, digging more coalmines and burning the dark and dusty rocks for fuel.

“It’s so lovely to see you, and you and you and you,” said Carbo to the newly freed carbon dioxide molecules as locomotives and furnaces released them into the 19th century atmosphere. “How wonderful to have you all as my new friends!” Every day more of his carbon buddies appeared. And though the numbers were growing, Carbo wanted still more.

He knew just where to get them. Carbo had discovered that coal wasn’t the only source of carbon dioxide molecules. The ground was full of another substance made from the remnants of prehistoric fossils.

“Oil,” he said out loud. “That black gold would be a gold mine of new carbon friends.”

But how could he convince the humans to take it from the ground? Sure, there were already a few oil wells popping up here and there in the United States and around the world. But to see his friends released in substantial numbers from the ancient liquid, humans would have to be convinced that they could not live without it. That meant the invention of an oil-burning machine that everyone wanted, one that everyone needed, a machine that no one could live without.

“What kind of invention would that be?” Carbo reflected, as he floated over a city street. Looking down, he spotted a man and woman climbing out of their horse-drawn carriage. Carbo smiled and said. “I think I found my answer.”

Over the next few years Carbo saw human inventors and engineers throughout the world race to build a horseless carriage that people could afford to use every day. The humans constructed various versions of internal combustion engines to power such an automobile. Some engines ran on hydrogen and others on electricity, but the fuel that finally caught on was the one Carbo was cheering for.

“Oil! Oil! Oil!” Carbo shouted throughout Europe, and sure enough, the German inventor Karl Benz began to build cars that ran on a substance refined from that sticky black bile from under the ground. “Go Karl! Go Karl!” Carbo cheered.

“Oil! Oil! Oil! Carbo cheered over the United States. Soon, a man named Henry Ford began churning out affordable gasoline-powered autos, eventually producing one car every ten seconds. “Go Henry! Go Henry!” was Carbo’s perpetual cheer over the U.S.

To convince the gullible humans to drill oil in greater quantities, Carbo turned to the great state of Texas to do his bidding. Right after the turn of the century humans began to extract the slick coal-colored “tea” from the soil of the Lone Star State, and Carbo was off and running, adding another cheer to his growing list: “More Texas Tea! More Texas Tea!”

To keep the humans producing more cars and drilling more oil and releasing more of his carbon friends, Carbo thought of a technique he had seen some humans use years before. In order to persuade their beasts of burden to move forward, they sometimes tied a carrot to a stick, dangling the tasty treat out in front of them so the animals would keep walking. In the first half of the twentieth century he practiced a similar system, using automobiles as the carrot and humans as the donkey. As the standard of living of most humans rose, demand for cars increased too. Humans wanted more cars, bigger cars, and faster cars. To get them required more oil wells, more drilling, and more releasing of Carbo’s fellow molecules.

“Where will it end?” Carbo mused. He had once heard that an asteroid might have sealed the doom of the Triceratops he had been trapped in sixty million years ago. The question on Carbo’s lips now was “Are humans sealing their own doom by fueling their lifestyle with my carbon friends?”


In the real world, Karl Benz produced the first automobile available to the public in 1885. In 1908, American Henry Ford began mass-producing the Model T, eventually delivering fifteen million cars by 1927 with a price tag of $250 apiece. In 1901, the Spindletop oil strike near Beaumont, Texas proved to be the most productive oil well in the world, producing 17 million barrels of oil its first year, and beginning an oil boom that made Texas the biggest oil producer in the country. Climate scientists believe the burning of coal, oil and gas in the 20th century is responsible for the rise of average temperatures over the globe, though they are not certain how hot the surface of the Earth could get if all coal and oil deposits were burned on the planet. The consensus of climate scientists is that in order for the current climate of the planet to stabilize, the level of carbon in the atmosphere needs to remain at 350 parts per million. At this writing, current atmospheric observations from Mauna Loa indicate that roughly 405 parts per million of carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere and still rising.

One climate scientist hero who recommends the 350-ppm figure is Bill McKibben. You can get more information about his efforts, and learn how to support greater use of renewable energy at

The Climate Guy

The text and artwork are copyright by Guy Walton. I would like to get this book published. Please drop me a note if you are willing to help.

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