LONDON, 23 April, 2021 - The world's most authoritative global forecasters have soberly confirmed conclusions first outlined in January. The year 2020, the year of Covid-19, of planet-wide economic slowdown, did almost nothing to damp global heating, which is why the UN says 2021 must be a "year of action".
Even at a point in the natural weather cycle in which tropical conditions should have been cooler, it was hotter: one of the three warmest years on record.
The decade 2011-2020 is now the hottest on record. Global average temperatures reached 1.2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.
Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere - for most of human history around 285 parts per million - have now reached 410 ppm. This year they could reach 414 ppm, thanks to ever-greater use of fossil fuels.
When I unzipped the tent flap in the morning, a strange yellowish light lit the campsite. Dark clouds roiled overhead and the air was thick with moisture. A light breeze came up while we were eating our breakfast and a few minutes later a gentle rain began to fall. It was more like a mist than rain. We considered getting out the rain gear but the mist was so cool, it felt good on our skin. By the time we had finished our porridge the mist had become a mild summer shower. We looked at each other and decided to spend the morning in our tent.
After we had dried ourselves and snuggled into our sleeping bag Marcus said, "I'm glad to have an excuse to spend the morning together with you because there's something I want to talk about."
"Well," I said, "my brain is completely empty so go ahead."
"I've been thinking that I want us always to be completely honest with each other. But I realized that I haven't been honest with you."
"Oh, God, you've got a secret lover stashed on the other side of the hill! I knew it. My life is ruined. Farewell, cruel world!"
"No, but I'm a little serious here, Bumper."
"Okay, go ahead."
"You know when I said about dressing up as Shurleen, that it was to practice disguise in case I needed to appear to be someone else, during my environmental war," said Marcus.
"Well, that wasn't true. I just really like dressing up like a girl. Most of the time I'm perfectly okay dressed as a boy, or naked, like now. But sometimes putting a dress on, putting a brassiere on, is fun. It gets me really excited. It's a sex thing, but I pretended I had some other good reason for doing it."
"I don't want to be a girl. I love being a boy and having a penis. But there is something exciting about dressing up as a girl. I also found it totally erotic when we dressed you up as Veronica. It had nothing to do with the climate crisis. It was pure sex play."
"Well, you converted me," I said. "I'd never thought about dressing up as a girl but when you convinced me to try it, I liked it. And not because I was learning something useful but because it was a sex turn-on. You remember when I got you to undress Veronica? I just about came when you fondled my breasts. And I really like being a boy, and having a penis too. And I'm glad I'm in love with you and that you have a penis. And it's such a nice, good penis, so delicious and brave and sweet and…."
"Okay, okay, okay," said Marcus. "It's no secret you like my penis. I'm very fond of yours, too, and its extreme cuteness, but that's another topic. Anyway, that's all. When I realized that I hadn't been perfectly truthful, I wanted to tell you because I don't want any secrets between us, ever."
"I've got something a little the same. It's not a secret from you so much as a secret from myself," I said.
"Wow," said Marcus. "That's something else. What we can do is that you can whisper it to me and then, if I figure you can stand to know, I'll tell you."
"We don't need to do that; I'll just out with it, bare my soul before your merciless gaze. It's about the JJO."
"Better known as the Jolly Jerk-Off."
"The Jolly Jerk-Off!" A slightly strangled guffaw escaped him.
"Yes, no more squealing, please. The JJO is an invention of mine. It's a device that converts the kinetic energy of walking into an up and down motion of a smooth sleeve over the erect penis."
"And…so…?" Marcus was shaking with unrestrained laughter here. I glared at him.
"So you could be walking down the street and getting jerked off at the same time. You know, you could be talking to your friends or perhaps out for a promenade with your family, and all the while you are being brought closer to an orgasm just from moving around."
"I want one!" said Marcus between gasps. "Name your price!"
"Well, what I want to confess is that there is no Jolly Jerk-Off. I don't know how to make something like that. I don't know how to make anything. It was just an excuse to put things on my boner and rub them until I came. It was just an excuse to play with myself. I developed this whole fantasy where I had somehow managed to make one and sell thousands of them and get rich."
"And you never told me," said Marcus.
"No, I thought about it when you were talking about how your cart was all titanium steel, you know, and machined to within a micron. I thought about mentioning the JJO then, that maybe we could get one made, you know, out of titanium steel rods and struts. But then I thought you would laugh and I started to think it was a stupid idea. I don't even know what a micron is. And it was about then that I realized that the whole thing was just an excuse to jerk off in new ways, and that I had never been really serious about making one."
"Nope," I said. "I think that's my only dirty little secret."
"We could probably get one made, you know…."
"I don't want one, Marcus. Being with you is better than any fantasy I ever had."
"Bumper, you should know that when I laugh around you it's because you make me so happy, never because I think you're stupid. After granddad died I don't think I laughed again until I met you. I had forgotten how to laugh. Then I met you. And I remember very clearly, that very first night when you were in your bedroom window and I was outside letting your raccoon go, I remember feeling a laugh squeezing up out of me when we were talking, because of you. Within a minute of meeting you, you made me laugh. When I drove away I was really happy for the first time in a long time. And then the next night, when we had that conversation about not wanting to kill each other, there was that laugh again bubbling up in me, just from being near you. Just being around you makes me happy, but sometimes, when I get a glimpse of the wonderful, beautiful boy you are inside, it makes me even happier and it just has to burst out of me in a laugh."
Like many of our conversations, this one ended in some kissing and hugging. I never tired of exploring Marcus. When I roamed over him, his smell, his taste, the beautiful way all his parts fitted together, his smooth warmth, all intoxicated me. The soft patter of rain on the tent was like a sedative and we slid gently into a nap. It was raining harder when hunger woke us, and I dashed into the other tent to bring soup makings and a little one-burner butane stove we had got for times like this.
While I put our lunch together, Marcus made an excursion to the other tent and came back with his notebook and laptop. Our researches were dove-tailing. As Marcus had studied his bird's eye views more closely he had begun to map out the boundaries of clan groups within Dogtown. Simultaneously I had started to understand one of The Boss' behaviors. I had realized that he didn't only watch for dangerous predators. He spent a lot of time and energy patrolling and defending a certain area from other prairie dogs. When he saw an interloper trespassing on his domain, he had a particular posture he took while he made a distinct bark. Sometimes he even tussled with a trespasser and occasionally, other prairie dogs got involved.
After lunch we looked at the drone's videos, and by fixing the location of those trespass events, we were able to map the borders of The Boss' clan territory. I still had a lot of work to do to get to know the residents of the other half dozen burrows protected by The Boss. I had been concentrating on Big Mama and her pups. I needed to move further into the town to meet the other members of The Boss' clan. After a couple of hours, we sat back and looked at our map of the area The Boss patrolled, and felt genuine satisfaction, that we were now beginning to make discoveries that would not be seen by a casual observer. This was real scientific research.
I made us some herbal tea and we munched some cookies my mom had made for us. I asked Marcus about homeschooling and how it worked, and we talked about getting Jason to contact some scientists to teach us about biology and how animals think and relate to each other.
Suddenly Marcus said, "But Bumper, there is something that worries me."
"This is all great. I love what we're doing. I never dreamed of doing something as interesting as this is, or doing it with someone like you."
"But we've forgotten about the climate crisis. We're just like everybody else on this planet. We've wandered off into just enjoying the world and forgotten that this beautiful, beautiful place is almost certainly going to be ruined because we're not paying attention, we're not devoting every minute to dealing with the crisis that is hanging over us."
We sat in silence then for a few minutes.
"Yeah," I said. "You're right. We're just the same as all those people driving their gas-guzzling SUVs to the steak house. It's like we're all in a dream, the most wonderful dream, but we've got to wake up. And we've got to wake up before it's too late to do anything to save this."
This was a sobering conversation and took the edge off our earlier enthusiasm and satisfaction about our prairie dog research. For the rest of the afternoon, we tried to figure out what we had to do. Over supper, we came up with a plan.
We decided to continue our research project but only for another few days. Then we would return to the house and focus all our energy and resources on dealing with the climate crisis. Marcus said the trustees of his granddad's estate had been generally sympathetic to his ideas in the past and would likely listen to him and agree to at least some of his suggestions if he went to them with an organized presentation. We started to build a plan to fund some non-profit companies to help people make the necessary changes. One idea was an electric vehicle dealership that would make electric cars available at cost price. A not-for-profit solar panel factory was another idea. We could set these up in areas where people were losing their jobs in coal mines, oil fields, logging operations and factory farms or feedlots.
"Do you think the trustees will go along with this kind of thing?" I asked.
"I had a talk with Jason once about the trustees. He said they were carefully selected by my granddad. And all of them knew that the money they were controlling was my money, not theirs. Of course, they were most interested in protecting it until I was mature enough to take control myself, but it was such a huge amount of money that there was income that they would allow me to allocate for nearly anything, except stuff that would harm me or other people, maybe even millions of dollars."
"So if you wanted to maybe give some money to some environmental organizations, like Greenpeace, they would be okay with that?"
We also decided to stop trying to work by ourselves and maybe join some groups who were demonstrating and fighting to get governments to wake up to the climate crisis. The group inspired by Greta Thunberg, Fridays For Future , seemed like a good one.
We had begun this discussion feeling a little depressed but by our bed-time, we were excited and happy that we had woken up from our dream and had some ideas about what we could do when we returned to civilization. We talked until darkness was falling, then decided to take a dip in the river before bed. We walked through the twilight to the riverbank. It was still raining.
We stood there for a minute looking at the dark water. It was higher than it had been and flowing with an urgency that wasn't inviting. Marcus said, "I don't like the look of the water. Let's just splash a little on ourselves and hit the sack."
"Do you think this river could ever flood?" I asked.
Marcus shook his head. "Nah, at least it's never flooded in the past."
I fetched a pot we could use to bathe ourselves. We dipped it in the river, poured it over each other and retired to our tent, dried ourselves, then folded our arms around each other and slept.
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