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Breaking Concrete

In a few hundred million years, archeologists for a new species will conclude we were dumber than the dinosaurs that preceded us.

By Kevin Somers
Published June 16, 2006

We moved in the fall of last year. Like my fine self, our new home isn't exactly new, but full of character and charm. Unfortunately, the new digs came with a lot of pavement. The long driveway ran up the entire side of the house where it flared like '70s denim; wide enough for two big vehicles.

Before my wife, Susan, and I had made our first offer on the place, we discussed pulling up the asphalt and planting a small jungle in its stead. We were leaving behind our first backyard, which was bought barren but sold lush, and we learned a lot from that.

We had spent the past winter plotting what to do and grow on the asphalt patch. Amongst other features, I wanted another grassy knoll, but Susan keeps putting her landscaping foot down. (I'll get my knoll, yet; you'll see.)

It's now spring, so Susan bought a pick axe and I went to work pulling up asphalt.

Black, the colour of death, is appropriate for pavement, which lies there smothering the ground. Evidently, it's toxic, too, because it had to be carted away in a special bin and put in quarantine so as not to infect other garbage.

The patch of black came up easily; it was like breaking packed ice. The bin company, Advantage Systems, was reasonable, prompt, and courteous, and the asphalt was gone after a weekend.

Things were, of course, going too smoothly and under the asphalt were several inches of crushed stone. After years of vehicle traffic and coagulating pavement ooze, the gravel was sufficiently compacted that it had to be broken up with my new pick axe before being shoveled and carted away in a borrowed wheelbarrow (thanks, Tyson and Barb).

The pile of removed rock is about 25' x 3' x 3'. That was a huge pain in the ass, but the best was yet to come. Under the compacted gravel were four inches of concrete, more stones, and then four inches of oil-soaked dirt. Somebody really hated that ground.

I was determined to get at it, however, so went to work with blister-preventing duct tape, a Red Green attitude (more handy than handsome), and a borrowed sledge hammer (thanks, Kevin and Betsy).

Progress was slow. At first I felt like Sisyphus with a wife of German extraction, but green dreams of life after death and a wife of German extraction kept me going. Besides, I was outside with beer and music and every swing and chunk carried away was good for me and the soil. It also provided plenty of time to think about the ground and what we do to it.

Maybe it's the Celt in me, but humans have got to stop cutting trees and paving over life or we'll perish, too. I don't think it's a secret any longer: anyone who can read, or turn on a TV, has to know and care. It's unconscionable not to. There's no longer an excuse not to be concerned.

"Leaders," fattened and dulled on an oil economy and eager to preach from the paving pulpit, are a dime a dozen. Alas, fellows, your poorly conceived and hideously ugly prosperity schemes are not sustainable much beyond your own swell life expectancy.

Beyond the environment, paving for prosperity is a misconception, anyway; for a stark, bleak example, go to Burlington St in northeast Hamilton to see industrial exodus coupled with concrete.

Even at their own peril, however, humans regularly gravitate to the easiest option, and oil has been a very easy option for a long time. Like deer, ostriches, dogs, and other animals we vilify for stupidity, humans are comically slow in reacting to the end of the oil epoch.

In a few hundred millions years, archeologists for a new species will be piecing together the history of earth. When they determine how much humans paved, expediting our own demise with short-witted environmental terrorism, they'll conclude we were dumber than the dinosaurs that preceded us.

So far, I've got all the concrete out, stones removed, and have turned some of the ground. As expected, the earth, under all that sun and pavement, is rich and fertile, dying to provide life.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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By Alan G (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2006 at 11:06:31

I have seen a lot of forest fires while living in the West. Yet, I have not seen one logging operation or the cummulative that contributes more sediment to any stream, more pollution to the air, or kills as many animals (including the T&E variety) as just one forest fire.

So far this year over 2.9 million acres have burned compared to about 0.9 million acres on the average. How can we call ourselves conservationsist or environmentalists when we intentionally destroy our environment by letting it burn? Why not be responsible and manage the forests and their habitat rather than neglect them so we can sit back and let them burn and watch flaming bunnys hop to their death because we think it is natural? How much morbid can we get? When I hear that arguement, it makes me think of one of our past President's attitude about the genocide in Rwanda a few year back.

The writer is correct that this generation, with it's crazy and irrational ideas on how to deal with renewable and non-renewable resources, is dumber than the dino's. Unless something drastic changes, it's extinction/self-annihilation is probably not too far off.

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