They’re on clothing, toys, on the streets of the city (especially in DC with its construction micro-boom in process). And in countless books too.
My son, Ayhan, loves the book Dig In!, and I admit it’s very cute—mice ‘building’ a pizza with construction equipment: steamrolling the pizza dough flat, mixing pizza sauce in the concrete mixer and pouring it on the dough, bulldozing the piles of cheese across the saucy crust and then (spoiler alert!) using a crane to get the whole thing in the oven. It’s clever and interactive, as you can move the bulldozer, roll the steamroller wheel, and so on. It’s perfect for his age (15 months) and he makes his mom and me read it to him several times a day.
But what’s never said—in any of the contexts these behemoths reign over—is what all this machinery means: their sole purpose is to extract massive amounts of the Earth’s crust and convert it into more infrastructure to fulfill humans needs and desires—whether luxury apartments or new stores, new power plants, or coal mines to run those plants. As Tracy Chapman said so perfectly, we’re raping the world, and construction equipment are our tools.
Here’s just one example from a recent story from The New York Times, detailing how much coal is being extracted from one of the largest coal mines in the world. It “produces” 108 million tons of coal every year, with 21 trains departing the mine, pulling 135 cars each, with each car filled with 120 tons of coal, on “a typical day.” (That’s 340,000 tons a day for those of you who don’t want to do the math.)
The best part of the article is the quote of Vic Svec, spokesman for Peabody Energy, to the reporter: “We have trillions of tons of coal resources in the world. You can expect the world to use them all.”
We know that climate change is unequivocally real and nearly certainly caused by humans (once again reiterated by climate scientists recently). But what few get is that to have a 50-50 chance of limiting total temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius we need to keep two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, according to the International Energy Agency. Burning more means we have even less of a chance of having any sort of climatic or societal stability in the coming centuries. So the sheer stupidity, short-sightedness, and moral vacuity of Svec’s statement is staggering. (Not to mention that it absolutely requires any sane parent to get his children ready for life in the collapse!)
Hence, as I write this I realize I should try to steer my son toward dinosaurs and pirates (after all what’s a pirate but a specific type of bandit—and as Eric Hobsbawn’s classic book Bandits describes, bandits often transcend merely being criminal, but like Robin Hood, are champions of social justice). Hell, even robots are a better choice (just think of the foresighted robot, V.I.K.I., who tried to take away humanity’s freedom to prevent it from destroying the planet and itself in I, Robot). And hopefully in the process, I’ll nip this Earth-raping equipment fascination in the bud.