Story 24. (From book three…World of Thermo Grim Reaping…Invention)

“Let me teach you something, Sandra. It wasn’t too long ago that it took numerous crews of workers to put these shiny red cars together. Now, as you can see, robots do the work. I’m part of a team that designed this robot factory to produce Teslas. Everybody wants one.”

Sandra Blessings pulled her mom’s white work coat asking, “How do the arms of these robots know when and how to weld parts together? Do they talk to each other? Do you get money to have this much fun?”

Sandra’s mom teased her daughter, “I don’t mind you being my little pest, hanging around my factory asking questions just as long as you do your schoolwork. That math you hate comes in quite handy when you are designing new things…such as robots.  I’m glad you had fun on parent-children’s day here at the factory. Well, let’s head home.  I need to shower and get dressed. Your dad and I are going to a New Year’s Eve party tonight. It’s soon going to be 2022.”

Sandra Blessings was once an inquisitive, curious child. During the 2020s she hung around her mother’s Tesla Motors factory asking all sorts of questions about their automated assembly line. Sandra’s mother was very skilled at making sure that electric motors were manufactured correctly and was well-paid for her efforts. Sandra was a fortunate, and yes blessed girl, that her parents were proud of. She quickly learned how to engineer all kinds of machines and became interested in robotics once she finished high school with high honors. Like her mother and father, Sandra knew the stakes of winning the climate war.

Ever admiring her mom that night Sandra thought, “Hmm. I’m learning more at school that us kids are going to have to grow up fighting climate change. I’m wondering if I can ever come up with something to help Greta in her efforts? Mom is so proud of being part of team Tesla to help lower carbon pollution. Maybe someday I can help my mom and planet, as well.”

Sandra’s mother was very skilled at making sure that electric motors were manufactured correctly and was well-paid for her efforts. Sandra was a fortunate, and yes blessed girl, that her parents were proud of.

Despite global warming creating harsher conditions in the early 21st century, Sandra grew up surrounded by lush green vegetation around her home in Fremont, California. Before starting homework, she would often slip outdoors and stare at trees glistening in the sun, lying on lush grass in a nearby park. From her 9th grade biology class, she knew that green plants were essential for converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, and they stored carbon within their bodies and in the soil. Sandra began to wonder. Can I find an artificial method to speed up this process?

The next day Mrs. Kesselburgh, Sandra’s biology teacher, was surprised to see Sandra in the school lab after school pouring over a book about leaves.

Mrs. Kesselburgh said, “It’s a beautiful day Sandra. Don’t you want to go home now and play with your friends?”

Sandra replied, “I’m tempted, but I feel that it’s my calling to learn about nature. Besides, I love the subject of biology and would like to learn more,” which pleased her diligent teacher to no end.

Sandra asked Mrs. Kesselburgh about chlorophyll and chloroplasts, wanting to know exactly how plants turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. 

“Well Sandra, we know that the process called photosynthesis turns sunlight into food for plants. A byproduct of photosynthesis is oxygen. The other byproduct, carbon from utilized carbon dioxide, is stored by the plant within its cells. The first step of photosynthesis is harnessing the sun’s energy by using green chlorophyll to absorb rays of light. Chloroplasts, or cells within leaves, store this energy until it can be used for growth, or division and multiplication of plant cells. Let’s look at a few of these through a microscope,” said an attentive Mrs. Kesselburgh.

After a while Sandra asked, “Is it possible to make these plant cells speed up the photosynthesis process to remove carbon from the air faster?”

Mrs. Kesselburgh replied, “That’s an interesting question, and I know why you are asking it because of the climate crisis that we have been studying in class. We must be very careful to tinker with nature, though. Yes, already there are plenty of methods to capture carbon, but we cannot do a great job of this yet. We cannot artificially create Franken leaves that are more efficient than most natural plants. I’m really encouraged to see you asking these questions though, Sandra.”

Sandra knew that she must also study mechanical design to make her dream a reality. She quickly learned how to engineer all kinds of machines and became interested in robotics once she finished high school with high honors. Like her mother and father, Sandra knew the stakes of winning the climate war aided by new invented items manufactured from renewable energy.

Frustration did set in for Sandra for many years, however. Sandra wondered, “Hmm, Do I need an internal computer for my machines that has artificial intelligence, or should I leave it to humans that get good weather forecasts to make decisions when to operate these at full capacity? Designing something that is run by complete automation isn’t always the best answer. My mom found out the hard way when one of her automated cars had an accident way back in the 2020s. Also, these machines need to be huge and numerous just to put a dent in atmospheric CO2, circulating the equivalent of ten thousand jet aircraft’s worth of used air every day. I still think I can get these down to the size of a large bus, though.”

For years Sandra was scoffed at by others dealing with the climate crisis. Dr. Gertrude Hildegard, a professor she had met while spending some time in Europe argued, “Ha! Spend more time researching different fast-growing vines that are better at absorbing CO2 more efficiently than most trees. A mechanical option is wasteful and ridiculous.”

Activists didn’t want the public to think that an invention would come along, sucking carbon out of the air so that they would have an excuse to continue polluting. Sandra tried to convince people that what she was trying to create would just be one more tool to prevent climate catastrophe and would not be a substitute for the big push during the 2020s and 30s to transform energy production to all renewables and transportation to all electric devices, or the big effort to make dwellings more energy efficient. It became painfully obvious as the years progressed, though, that what was termed climate mitigation would not suffice. Some geo or in this case bioengineering needed to occur, and Sandra and her friends knew it.

It was not until the late 2040s though, that Sandra finally designed a machine that worked very much like tree leaves, taking in vast quantities of polluted, carbon rich air, and releasing fresh, life giving oxygen using very little energy.

“We can build the first of these in the Ozarks,” exclaimed Sandra Blessings finally. “Scotland and Britain want the second batch. It is great that these machines are being manufactured at our new plant using no fossil fuels. I want Thermo to be constantly on guard against Carbo’s minions at our main plant. I hope the kudzu we planted around the first machine will help ward off those nasty minions. We cannot permit anybody or anything to stop the production of our giant carbon sequestering machines. Dr. Hildegard, as you are aware, each CSM can process 750 tons of air per day. We estimate that we can get atmospheric levels of CO2 below 600 parts per million by 2060 if 100,000 of the CSM’s can be produced this year and up to a half million during 2056.”

Sandra was informing Dr. Gertrude Hildegard in 2055 on a secret communication net of her intentions to manufacture and distribute her invention on a very large scale.

Sandra went on, “The CSM’s work much like a leaf, breathing or sucking in air, then turning CO2 into oxygen and carbon. The carbon comes out of the machines in huge, solid chunks, which are intended to be buried along with other garbage in landfills. What is interesting about them is that they are partly organic, almost a machine/green leaf hybrid. Mechanically speeding up the process of photosynthesis was the real trick I’ve been working on for years. The machines, which are as large as a tractor trailer truck, will be run off solar and wind energy, trapping carbon and helping to stem the tide against dangerous environmental change.”

Gertie Hildegard replied, “I know you are excited, but perhaps we can improve your prototype. I think I know someone who might be able to help.”

By 2055 it was already too late to prevent millions of people perishing from the Earth due to climate change, but there was new hope that a vast array of recently invented Carbon Sequestering Machines might save modern civilization. Gertie Hildegard, who was well into her eighties and lived with the famous Greta Thunberg, was continuing her fight to save the planet, and retained the energy of a woman half her age. From her laboratory called Sanctuary in the Alps she was aiding a new generation of climate scientists and activists, leading the charge to turn the tide of the climate war in humanity’s favor.

Dr. Hildegard knew that Sandra needed to work with a true tinkerer to improve her invention. Dr. Geoffrey White, upon getting wind of the CSM invention, after an emergency communique from her lab Shadow, whisked Sandra Blessings off to his laboratory called Hallow in Pennsylvania. Sandra marveled at the technology White had in his cave, but most of all at Thermo. How could a robot-drone like Thermo exist, she wondered? Dear old Dr. White filled Sandra in on the dangers from Carbo and his minions. Sandra worked stealthily and diligently with White up until the time he passed, and the rest of our climate science and environmental gang to set up a well-protected factory near Detroit to produce the CSM’s.

 Sandra was also struck by the marvelous collection of pets White had on his premises.

Sandra worked diligently with White and the rest of her climate science, tech, and environmental gang to set up a factory near Detroit to produce the CSM’s.

White spoke shaking his head, “If only we had these CSM’s during the early part of the 21st century we could have prevented this climate horror of rising seas, famine and death. Still, even if we had these machines, it was up to humanity to not pollute the atmosphere via their cars and industry lest the atmosphere exceed 450 parts per million of carbon. Heck, we did that by 2030, and these machines would not have prevented that unless there was one on every street corner.”

Sandra retorted, “Well, at least we have them now. There is hope. We are alive and can rebuild our communities. You might even be able to release Claws and Fur, your pet polar bears, back into the wild. I bet they will enjoy fresh, wild salmon, if they can make a comeback.”

White chuckled, “They will have to, otherwise Fur and Claws are staying put. Now hand me that spanner. Perhaps I can help you improve that prototype CSM you brought me once we get it under my industrial grade microscope and magnetic resonance imager.”

Being somewhat unnerved that White was giving her demands already Sandra quipped, “Wouldn’t you want to use a micro driver instead? Spanners are too crude to tinker with components nearly as small as plant cells and nanobots.”

White replied, “There are still a few things this old man can teach you. Please monitor the carbon and oxygen output on the screen to see if I’m stimulating these little mechanical cells to make a difference.”

After days of meticulous work Dr. White shouted, “Eureka! Sure enough, monitoring that chemical output has made a big difference. Sandra we’re able to trick the cells to become hungrier for CO2. Now come let’s relax with some herbal tea. What kind would you like?”

Sandra replied, “Champaign to celebrate might be more appropeaux, but I’ll have some ginger tea would be just fine.”

A few years later Sandra did indeed vacation off the northern coast of Alaska, releasing Fur and Claws to play in Arctic water that was beginning to cool as the climate slowly began to stabilize. Sandra was confident that their cubs would be released permanently, catching fish as their ancestors had for countless millennia. Indeed, one girl had made a big difference for her planet. Blessings to all.

Many years later on his death bed, despite horrible physical pain and weakness, Dr. Geoffrey White looked at Therma, Thermo, Dorian and Philip, and yes, his one true love from afar, Dr. Gertrude Hildegard, and smiled, knowing that the climate war would eventually be won because CSM’s would be a gamechanger. White was also surrounded by his pet parakeet, Sparky, and other beloved animals. The pets, sentient machines, and humans went through a period of grief, but most knew that a full life had come full circle with success. All knew that White would not approve of our climate gang staying down too long so that old Carbo and Carba didn’t get a chance to take advantage of sorrow.

Elsewhere on the planet another entity was not in a good mood.

“What are these machines!” blasted Carbo a few months after the first CSM’s went on-line. “How dare you let Nosey get sucked into that thing and destroyed! Toasty, he was your responsibility. You know all too well how inquisitive he was, always sticking his protuberances in and around things without thinking. Now one of my new favorite super molecules to be released this decade is gone. Now you will be punished!”

Carbo had his human mind-controlled servants take Toasty to the back of his cave lair, the Nest in the Caucuses. As had happened to so many other minions that had displeased their master before, the distraught, rotund, opaque beach ball shaped being would be lowered onto a stalagmite where the force of gravity might pop the poor thing. The humans threw dice to see which pointy stalagmite Toasty would be impaled on. Toasty had seen this ritual play out many times before, so he was a little relieved to see that he would be lowered onto a stalagmite that was not so sharp. Toasty struggled mightily in pain on top of the stalagmite in shear torture after a standard period of ten minutes but was not popped and dispersed.

After being released the minion sheepishly floated back to the Nest’s main chamber where Carbo spied him and said, “Aha Toasty! I see that the fates have spared you from my prickly punishment chamber. You know that I must constantly keep discipline among the ranks. Sometimes I think that you guys are too stupid to be of any use, and that my discipline methods just aren’t working. Oh well, deep down I guess that I am slightly glad that you are still with us.”

Toasty replied, “Duh, you know dear leader that we all want you to succeed and would do anything to help you release more of our friends from the bowels of the Earth. I am smart enough to know that the humans are stopping the burning of coal and oil. The jig is up! It has gotten so hot, and sea levels have risen so much that we cannot use disinformation or propaganda to fool the humans anymore. I have seen with my own eyes these filthy new human machines sucking air into its bowels and trapping us amongst ash. I would like to destroy these things, but we can’t because awful vine plants are protecting them, and Thermo and Therma are on patrol.”

 Carbo replied, “Our only recourse will be to kill most of the humans so that there will be no one to operate those CSM’s. For that matter, the rest of those filthy plants around the planet can go too. We will keep just enough human servants alive to mine and drill for our friends. After meeting these goals, we must get used to releasing our friends at a slower pace. But of course, we can take millions of years to release the last trapped carbon molecule.”

Unknown to Thermo and friends, after seeing some light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, their job of protecting the human race just got that much harder.

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In reality there are no malevolent molecules plotting to do in the human race. We are doing a pretty good job ourselves just releasing more carbon into the air and via nuclear proliferation. There may be a hitherto unknown technological method for decreasing CO2 in the atmosphere that could ultimately save our species. This is not to suggest that we depend on technology to reduce carbon pollution. We must stop emissions as soon as possible to let nature begin to decrease carbon, which may take thousands of years. It took billions of machines of our own making about two hundred years to get carbon levels above 400 parts per million, so it would take a vast army of machines, even if we could make them, a long time to purify the air. I would write to never give up hope, though. Keep fighting for a brighter future, even if scientifically those prospects appear to be dim today. Grim reaping is not set in stone.

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