Climate Corner: House of Denial
Aug 5, 2023
The flames rise.
In a gated community not far from the beltway, twin fires rage toward the heavens. On either side of the street, two sprawling McMansions kindle into ash, sparks pirouetting upward into the night sky. The blazing homes belong to two well-known and respected families, the Dempseys and the Remingtons.
“Daddy, the house is on fire!” cries the youngest Remington child, running up to the head of the family with his siblings in tow.
Mr. Remington, sitting in his armchair, uncrosses his legs and lowers the newspaper in his lap.
“On fire?” he asks.
The youngest child pauses for a moment, then turns to look at his siblings, as though for confirmation of this obvious fact. A few of them nod.
“Yes!” he reiterates, “The whole house is burning down!”
Mr. Remington lingers on his newspaper for a moment, then brushes the ash from the shoulder of his smoker’s jacket.
“No it’s not,” he says finally.
The children gape at him. “But… The fire and smoke,” says an older brother, gesturing around the room, “They’re everywhere!”
“Wrong,” Dad says. “There is no fire, and there never has been. That’s just a lie from our enemies to try and threaten our way of life.”
The kids stand there, slack-jawed. Eventually though, a few of them nod. “Yeah,” they say. “Yeah, that sounds right.”
Though not everyone is convinced. “Can’t you hear the fire alarm?” asks one of his daughters.
Mr. Remington waves a dismissive hand. “There’s always been fire,” he says. “Fire comes in cycles. That’s how God made it!”
There’s some grumbling from his audience, though by now several of them have come around.
“Even if there was a fire, we have to take into account the possible financial benefits this could bring about!” says one son.
“Exactly!” says Mr. Remington.
“Humans have always adapted to fire,” says his youngest boy, nodding vigorously.
“If it’s a legitimate fire, the body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” says another.
His youngest daughter, standing in the doorway, spontaneously combusts.
“Close that, will you?” says Mr. Remington, nodding to the door. They seal themselves into the den, ignoring her screams.
“Gee dad, I guess you were right,” says his eldest son.
“Your old man’s learned a thing or two in his day,” says Mr. Remington proudly. “But I will say, it’s getting a little bit hot in here. Why don’t you kids wait here while I head upstairs and crank up the AC?”
He leaves the circle of children sitting cross-legged on the floor of the den, and shuffles up the stairs with no intention of returning.
Meanwhile, a similar scene unfolds across the street.
Mr. Dempsey can be seen lounging in his recliner, staring off into the distance as the golden flames close in on all sides.
His children run up to him. “Dad! Dad, the house is on fire!”
“Huh? What’s that?” he asks confusedly.
“Our house is burning down!” repeats his middle daughter.
“Good gracious!” he exclaims, rising to his feet. “You’re absolutely right, kiddo! Quick, we gotta do something!”
The children prepare to bolt from the house and escort their elderly father as needed. But to their surprise, they see him instead shuffling in the direction of the kitchen sink. He turns on the faucet, and starts filling up glasses from the cupboard with water. He hands them one by one to the children crowded around him.
“Here, start dumping these on the fire!” he commands his youngest son. The boy doesn’t immediately comply, his gaze transfixed on the freezer full of melted Jeni’s ice cream now spilling out onto the linoleum.
“Dad, I don’t think this is enough,” says the middle daughter, watching as her younger sister splashes the contents of her glass onto the conflagration. The flames blink, then roar back to life more furiously than ever.
“Listen Jack, at least we’re doing something about it,” he counters. “If you’ve got a problem with how I do things, why don’t you go live with the Remingtons instead? I’m doing more than they are!”
“Dad, this is an emergency!” she pleads. “We need to call 9-1-1!”
He winces. “Emergency isn’t really the right word for it,” he says. “I think that the concerns are based on what we should all be concerned about, but the solutions have to be, and include, what we are doing in terms of going forward in terms of investments. There’s a process for these things. We have to go about this the right way, or else we’re no better than the Remingtons.”
At first the children continue to plead. But as they fall into the steady rhythm of activity, feebly splashing water at the flames and then returning to the sink, their complaints gradually subside.
“This isn’t really having much of an effect,” says the middle daughter, “but at least we’re doing something.”
“Keep it up!” says Mr. Dempsey, giving them a thumbs up through the haze. “This is the only way to change things! Now you kids stay with it, I’m gonna go upstairs and see if I can find some more glasses!”
Like his counterpart, Mr. Dempsey has zero intention of returning.
The two neighbors emerge into the center of their shared street, locking eyes against the backdrop of their burning homes. They cross to the center of the road, shaking hands.
“Looks like some excitement going on at your place,” says Dempsey.
“A bit more than I’d like, I’m afraid,” chuckles Remington.
Though they love to play-act as fierce ideological rivals, the two of them really aren’t so different from one another.
They stand there chatting for a few minutes, until at last a pair of private jets descend through the sizzling updraft of smoke, landing in their neighbors’ yards.
“That looks like my ride,” says Remington. They shake hands again, and the two men depart for their second homes, many miles away from here, and from the angry inferno of the desecrated world they’ve left behind.
The children are burning.
Aaron Dunbar is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.