Alice and the Green Rabbit.
This is a guest article by Graeme, one of our regular contributing authors. This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s never been out of print in that century and a half because it has that faceted, multi-layered quality that every chunky piece of enduring art has – it appeals to most people on the particular level they see the world.
The top level is of course it’s a great book for children. Alice, a child, is centre stage in it, which was unusual for the time, and the unfolding surprises of Wonderland are guaranteed to engage any child’s imagination. Try reading it to a child on your knee and you’ll soon find out it can still weave its magic spell just for them. You can find a free and legitimate copy of the book in various soft formats at my favourite website – Project Gutenberg.
Both it and its sequel are full of puzzles and diversions it’d be very easy to miss, but for instance if you’ve a taste for anagrams, it’d be well worth doing a bit of fiddling with the names of some of the characters.
At a much deeper level, it has some very abstruse and subtle mathematical concepts, for Charles L. Dodgson amongst his many other accomplishments, was also a don in mathematics at Christ Church college, Oxford. If you’re partial to a bit of symbolic logic, you can also get some of his ideas on that area at Gutenberg as well. I’d commend his four tips to learners in the introduction to that work, particularly the third one.
Not in map.
It was a lovely spring day in England and so naturally Alice was inside by the fire, reading a dull book which wasn’t telling her what a whisky glass was. Alice had come across her father looking at the picture of her great-uncle Herbert hanging by the stairs. Alice thought that great-uncle Herbert had dreadful dress sense but you could tell from the bare legs protruding from the droopy bloomers that it was hot wherever he was. She asked her father if great-uncle Herbert ever saw ice and all he said was “only through a whisky glass”.
Alice did not know what a whisky glass was, but she had heard of a spyglass and guessed that a whisky glass was something like that, but used for seeing ice from a long way away. She was trying to find out what a whisky glass looked like as it might be useful if she ever became a famous explorer. Alice was thinking that would be something exciting to be when she grew up, but The 1019 Interesting Facts for Boys and Girls wasn’t living up to its title and she was feeling drowsy. She looked out the window and saw a white rabbit on the lawn who was wearing a green waistcoat, and consulting a fob watch. It struck Alice as unusual and she went outside to investigate.
“Why green?” she asked when she got close. “I tried dying myself green” lisped the rabbit, “but there is always a certain odour about being green”.
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?”
“That’s because we have so little time left to save the Earth” was the reply. This puzzled Alice who didn’t know that the Earth needed saving, and rather doubted that the white rabbit would be much help whatever the colour of its waistcoat. Trying to think of a polite way of saying this she paused, which was enough for the rabbit let out a very audible fart. “Oh dear I mustn’t do that, the methane you know” said the rabbit, “but if you have a vegan diet of grass that ferments inside you, what else can you expect?”
“What is methane?” said Alice.
“Why its a greenhouse gas, one of the worst” said the green rabbit. “It causes the earth to warm up and up until no animal could survive”.
“Do all grass-eating animals get trouble with methane? Sheep, elephants and so forth.”
“Oh yes, without a doubt. The larger the animal the more methane” said the rabbit.
“Dinosaurs for example?” continued Alice, with memories of a recent visit to the Natural History Museum. The size of the dinosaur on display had impressed her. “Imagine herds of 50 ton dinosaurs roaming around, and all that methane”.
“Well, that’s why they became extinct” said the rabbit.
Alice had her doubts about that, she couldn’t remember how long the sign had said that the dinosaurs lasted, but it seemed to have been a very long time. She did venture “Are you sure?”
“It is the only possible explanation” said the rabbit in a fixed sort of way.
Alice changed the subject, “why do you wear a waistcoat?”
“That’s to show that I am one of the believers in the true way of greenery. And the watch is to show that I am a leader that others should follow – like sheep”.
“Why do there have to be believers, and what do they believe?” wondered a puzzled Alice.
“It is only NATURE” was the firm response. “Some are chosen to lead the sheep like shepherds, to the right pasture and make sure they don’t stray”.
“But what if they don’t want to follow?”
“They’re deniers” screamed the rabbit, frothing slightly at the mouth. “They must be isolated, and have humiliation heaped on them. We refuse to listen to them. We organize groups to follow them around shouting that they are in the pay of rabbit hunters. And we won’t let them into our burrows”.
“So, you deny them entry” joked Alice. It fell flat. [ Editor – what it deserved ]
Trying to change the subject, Alice said that her geography book claimed that the sea water at the Pacific end of the Panama canal was four-foot higher than at the other end.
“It’s worse than we thought” exclaimed the rabbit. “Water finds its own level, so that means the Earth has tilted. It’s Man Made Global Tilting. We must start protesting at once. We need to take immediate action. We need an international scientific body to measure how fast the Earth is tilting and what we must do so it doesn’t get much worse. Then we have to set out what lifestyle we must sacrifice. Yes, everybody will have to reduce their standard of living”.
“Aren’t you jumping to conclusions? There could be some other explanation” wondered Alice. “Nonsense, there is no other possible explanation” was the response.
“Well then, why must everyone reduce their standard of living?” wondered Alice, who had already realized that Mummy got grumpy whenever she went on a diet to reduce her weight, and Alice couldn’t see much fun if everyone was grumpy all the time. The rabbit responded, in the sort of tone used by Miss Hunstable at Sunday School when she wanted to impress the children about some bit of the story, “that’s what you do to reduce the greenhouse gases and their effect on the climate”.
“What is a greenhouse gas?” enquired Alice. The rabbit looked smug “Don’t you know anything? A greenhouse gas causes warming, so carbon is a greenhouse gas because it causes warming.”
“But carbon is a black solid, not a gas; unless it comes as a diamond” said the girl who paid attention in the Chemistry lessons. “If it’s solid it isn’t a gas.”
“I meant carbon dioxide” said the rabbit looking very peeved, “carbon is a short hand way we experts have of referring to carbon dioxide. It is an invisible gas which comes from burning coal and oil and natural gas, which is why we must close down all our conventional power stations.”
“If it is invisible, how do you know it comes from the power stations?” queried Alice.
The rabbit stopped looking peeved and reverted to smugness as he clinched the discussion with “because we’ve taken pictures of it coming out.”
Alice was also getting a little annoyed, feeling that she was getting what she got when her parents didn’t want to answer a question. “How can you photograph something that is invisible?” was her retort.
“Here is proof” said the rabbit, pulling out a photograph from inside his waistcoat, “look at all that black emissions destroying the climate.”
“That’s a cooling tower” said the girl whose friend Ben’s father worked at a power station, “that’s only water vapour, she said, and that is white. You must have coloured it black to try and fool people.”
The rabbit started to resemble a Scotsman with a grievance which, as everyone knows, starts with a very black look and no desire for further dialog. “The science is settled, Algore said in 1988 that the World had only 5 years to go before runaway heating set in, and the IPCC was set up to prove it and find out how fast it was warming, and they are 95% sure that carbon dioxide causes warming and because the level is rising, the temperature must be rising despite what those deniers say about the thermometer readings. The science is settled, you must believe it and obey.”
On the road in the distance what looked like a traveling negro minstrel group passed in a horse-drawn carriage. Their distant voices drifted to Alice as –
Our science is all settled and all mighty,
Though it covers less than a see-through nightie,
Yet that old time algorithm is the only one for me.
Alice shook her head, something was wrong with that explanation.
“What will you be sacrificing?” she asked.
“Me?” squealed the rabbit “that’s for the sheep who follow, not the leaders like me. Anyway why should I when I’ve got everything here that I want, two burrows, lots of grass”.
“Like your own fox” said Alice, pointing at the one coming towards them.
“We’re doomed” said the rabbit “its worse than we thought”.
“Perhaps if you got into that clump of bushes over there” said Alice.
The rabbit took off as fast as he could go on his fat little hind legs. He didn’t say goodbye, which Alice thought a bit rude, so she watched the race dispassionately as the fox gained on the rabbit, but when she lent forward to cheer on the fox her book fell off her lap, and she woke up. “Oh, it was just a silly dream”.
She tried to tell her mother about her dream, but her mother just checked her temperature and wanted to send her to bed. Her father came in and suggested a hot lemon drink with some whisky in it. For some reason this made her mother look very sour, so Alice hastily said “it was only a silly daydream. Not at all important”.
So the moment passed and Alice was glad, and also because she had found out that whisky was some sort of medicine you drank, rather than something you made a glass from, so the afternoon was a success.
Alice’s parents were always slightly puzzled that Alice never wanted a pet bunny rabbit like all the other children, indeed seemed against the idea. They let it slide as she was developing a stubborn streak in her personality.
When she grew up Alice married an Australian sheep farmer who was visiting the UK and went to live on his farm. He said, far too often, that she was the best souvenir he ever picked up; but he was no fool when it came to farming. They diversified the farm early on, olives, nut trees, alpacas etc. to help the cash flow through the bad times for wool, but they always kept a few sheep, never much more than a thousand, to supply the demand for superfine wool.
Alice became much respected in the district. At a recent meeting of the Country Women’s Association Alice told a newcomer to the district that people underestimated the intelligence of sheep. “Give them enough food, a bit of freedom and don’t try to fleece them too much and the animals will mostly look after themselves. It is only”, she said darkly, “when other animals try to take what belongs to the sheep that you have to give them some help”.
The other women agreed, for they all had rabbits on their farms, possibly more so than Alice, for she was known as a dead shot with a small rifle and the originator of several very tasty recipes for rabbit.
The green rabbit joined the BBC and is now the Environment Editor.