Woolgatherers ponder worst case scenarios

January 3, 2010


It’s not uncommon when driving across Kansas to come upon a sign outside some small town proclaiming, “Home of Someone You’ve Never Heard of” or “Girls Class C Volleyball Champions 1954.” Why is there no sign outside Lawrence announcing, “Woolgathering Capital of the World?”

The validity of this distinction was illustrated the other day by a report on the city’s Peak Oil Task Force, created a year ago by city commissioners. Its mission: to brood upon the challenges that would face Lawrence if there were a disruption in the supply of oil or a staggering upswing in its price. Members of this ad hoc think tank leapt into action with gusto. It was just the sort of challenge to excite woolgatherers and their powers of conjuring up visions of doom.

Oil shortages and high prices would mean radical lifestyle changes, they said. There would be an explosion of backyard gardens. That in itself would be a good thing, but more gardens would mean more demand for manure compost. Manure, of course, is malodorous. A superabundance of manure could condemn Lawrence to a reputation of being known primarily for its stench. An increase in the number of horses to replace gas-guzzling cars would add to the manure problem. Problems, problems, problems. How to mitigate the bad odor without subverting the virtues of subsistence gardening?

I trained my own woolgathering powers on the quandary. The simple solution, I reasoned, would be to kill all the horses, an expediency that would eliminate horse manure — and the foul aroma thereof. It seemed like an elegant solution. Then I realized that exterminating the horses would put us back to square one, without a source of compost. Moreover, horse lovers would likely complain. See? This woolgathering isn’t as easy as you might think.

A reeking Lawrence was merely the first of the Peak Oil Task Force’s worries. A shortage of oil would inevitably provoke more burning of wood for heat. Wood itself would become a precious commodity. The snarling of chainsaws would fill the night as gangs of tree rustlers roamed the town. No maple, oak or red bud would be spared and before long Lawrence would be deforested. Imagine Douglas Country without trees. (If you find this difficult, look at a photo of this area 100 years ago when it was mostly prairie and trees were scarce.)

We ought to be grateful that Lawrence is blessed with so many experts in the field of worrying about the future, but an oil shortage is only one of innumerable disasters that threaten Athens on the Kaw. An attack by aliens from outer space cannot be ruled out. Does Lawrence have a plan to deal with such a frightening contingency? Of course, there’s always the possibility that the invaders would be dumber than we are and easily defeated. But that’s unlikely, given the fact that they would have the technology to reach our planet in the first place, be it via spaceship, flying saucer or other futuristic conveyance.

One thing’s for certain: Lawrence is going to be in for a hard fight. Success will depend on discovering the enemy’s weaknesses — then hitting them where it hurts. The key might turn to be something simple, such as playing hip-hop music at a high volume. We’d all enjoy a good laugh if that caused them to melt into harmless little puddles of slime.

But a defeat of the aliens hardly guarantees peace. A plague of grasshoppers could devour local crops and vegetation, not to mention the misery inflicted by a proliferation of poisonous toads and serpents. How can these menaces be averted? What about the difficulties when global warming raises sea levels and puts Lawrence under 20 feet of water? How is the city going to cope? A modest proposal: Offer TIF financing to manufacturers of flippers, masks and snorkels. It’s not too soon to begin stockpiling today.

Scientists predict that plate tectonics will push the continents back together some day. Lawrence could wind up next door to Hoboken, N.J., unless radical measures are taken to anchor it in place. One solution: Drive pilings deep into the soil surrounding the city so it can’t be budged. Attach strong cables to stationary objects such as trees, if the rustlers have left any trees.

Finally, what is Lawrence going to do when the sun burns out, as it must someday? Again, planning is called for, so that the city is not caught with its pants down. The City Commission ought to be looking into alternative sources of light and warmth. It should hire wordsmiths to come up with synonyms for expressions such as “sunny,” “sunny side up,” “suntan,” “sunroom,” “sunscreen.” For without the sun as a reference point, those expressions will have no meaning, don’t you see?

But let’s not get too pessimistic. Remember, hardships often stimulate creativity and invention. Who knows what clever scientist is even now on the threshold of discovering a fragrant form of horse manure or a kind of wood that can be burned over and over again? Salvation lies in more task forces, more jawboning, more hand-wringing, more committees dedicated to the gathering of gossamer wool.


anon1958 8 years, 2 months ago

LOL who let this guy near a typewriter again?

Orwell 8 years, 2 months ago

There's evidently no shortage of horse manure at the Gurley residence. Why he needs to recycle it into columns is unknown.

RoeDapple 8 years, 2 months ago

I choose to rely on the BS factor. It stinks while remaining odorless, and there is already an abundance anyplace you go. Properly dispensed, gardeners have produced the largest tomatoes, corn crops and cucumbers. Parents produce the brightest, most intelligent children. Hunters harvest or at least spot the largest wild game in the county, and fishermen almost land fish of monumental proportion. It is produced most efficiently at local cafe's by small groups of men over coffee, but can be produced equally as well by these same small groups standing around the bed of an F-150 Ford with beer coolers in the back. I have personally heard the solutions to all the worlds problems discussed in these environments, and have even contributed my share in the process. Governments rise and fall in minutes, empires crumble and conspiracies solved. The biggest weakness to the BS factor is modern technology. Many of life's problems have been on the verge of being solved when someones cell phone rings, everyone checks to see if it is his, and one man flips opens his phone and says,"Yes dear, I was just leaving, see you soon sweety." At that point everyone gets up to leave, not wanting their fellow savior of the earth to leave by himself in embarrassment. They all jump into their Explorers, Suburbans, F-350's and Ram's, then quickly disperse in a cloud of gas fumes and diesel smoke. Truly a sight to bring a tear to a fellow baby boomers eye.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 2 months ago

FSM, in his infinite wisdom, might decide to make us into meatballs to enhance his noodly goodness. What then?

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 2 months ago

LOL at both George and Roe. snap, I'll be the cheesecake desert siting just to the right of his noodly goodness.

bblbfolks 8 years, 2 months ago

Hmm? Let's see. You have no oil so you have to resort to growing a garden since you can't get to the grocery store. Okay, I can see that. I've tended many, many gardens with my family over the years. But you know what? Not once did I ever have to resort to horse manure! Besides, if you can't get to the store for green beans, how are you going to get to the horse manure store? I don't know about anybody else, but it wouldn't hurt me too much to have to ride my bike some more...say to the farmer's market. But you know what else? If I did have to use something smelly, or starve. I'd learn to deal with the smell. I mean, I DID live in Emporia for a while. I can take it. We already know that the Martians' heads explode when they hear Slim Whitman music.

BigPrune 8 years, 2 months ago

The horse manure compost heap is just a lead in to a much grander idea that hasn't been let loose of just yet. It's not horse manure composting..........it's HUMAN manure composting. Then we won't need a waste treatment plant and we can live in the utopia our forefathers lived in like Laura Ingalls Wilder -nice. The ultimate smart growth community.

Smart growth killing our quality of life, all hail the sacred cow Horizon 2020. Has your street been plowed yet?

8 years, 2 months ago


I agree that planning for an alien defense plan is dumb but why lambaste the Peak Oil Task Force for trying to plan for a very real and possibly imminent threat?

Do yourself a favor and take an hour out of your day to watch this: http://www.videoweed.com/file/rv5fh4cfbce75

Peak Oil and the changes it will force on us need to be discussed.

BigPrune 8 years, 2 months ago

I can't wait to slalom the horse manure in the road. Kind of like the Titanic hitting an iceberg during that global warming period in history in 1912, iceberg was unusually too far south. All those concrete bicycle paths throughout town will make a good trail for the horses, except for maybe their hooves. I want to soot up the air we'll be breathing and cut down all those defenseless trees. I can raise some backyard chickens or even a hedgehog. A chamber pot in every room, no running water (only rain water cisterns), and of course, candle power. The 1800's, 1700's 1600's, 1500's etc., was a utopia - all green, just like everyone's teeth, but that was before flouride, something to be banned. Keeping teeth white was to rinse with urine, yes urine, but that also made their teeth rot. So add to our future utopia, people with pee breath, that in itself will require a task force for sure.

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