Henry Ford Hated Glaciers

All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without express permission of author.


David R. Bowne, Ph.D.

Department of Biology
Elizabethtown College
Elizabethtown, PA 17022
Office: (717) 361-1317
November 14, 2016


“Yes!” Fred pounded his hands on the well-worn library table and then raised them in victory. “I got it!” An older gentleman sitting at a neighboring computer glared in disapproval. “Sorry to disturb you, dude,” Fred said, smiling. “I’ll let you get back to your work.” He gathered his books and strutted towards the circulation desk, winking at the reference librarian as he passed. “Man, I can’t wait to tell Jim about this,” he said to himself.


Jim sat at the second-hand kitchen table, one hand rubbing his forehead and the other one holding a tuition bill. He hoped pursuing a MBA would help him realize his entrepreneurial dream, but so far it was only putting him deeper into debt. “It’ll work out,” he said to himself. “You’ll come up with a plan.” He threw the bill onto the pile of others. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a red X marked on the wall calendar, a picturesque freebie from the Nature Conservancy, and groaned. Rent was due too. Jim stood and marched towards his roommate’s bedroom, sighing as he kicked aside an empty beer can. He was never sure what he’d find on the other side of the door and was usually disgusted by the answer.


Jim knocked. “Hey Fred, you in there?” No answer. “Fred?”  He banged the door. “Fred?”


Jim turned the knob, eased open the door, and immediately regretted it. The room reeked of soiled cat litter. He quickly shut the door and retreated to the living room. The lingering stench convinced Jim that it was time to move out. Rent be damned, but the damn rent was due. Where was he?


A moment later the front door flew open and a voice bellowed, “Hey Jim-boy, you home?” Fred burst into the apartment, dumped his backpack on the couch, and strode over to Jim.


“Jim, you won’t believe it. I got it!”


“What, the rent?” Jim asked as he walked past Fred to sit in a beat-up recliner.


Fred turned to face his roommate. “No man, not the rent. The answer.”


“To why you don’t have the rent?”


“Screw the rent. Listen to me,” Fred implored. “I know how he did it.”


“Who did what? Is this about JFK’s suicide?”


“JFK? Man, I solved that one last month,” Fred said, staring at Jim. “Don’t you ever listen to me?”


The honest answer was no. Why bother listening when Fred would either complain about callers to his IT help line or babble on about his latest conspiracy theory. Fortunately, Fred’s question turned rhetorical.


“Jimbo, I know my ideas seem outrageous, but this time I’m really onto something.” Fred pleaded with big, brown, puppy dog eyes. “Come on, hear me out.”


Jim sighed. “All right, explain away. But then we need to talk about rent.”


“Fair enough. Okay, check this out.” Fred sat on the couch to be at eye level with Jim. “I figured out Henry Ford’s secret mission.”


“I didn’t know he had a secret mission.”


“Duh, no one did.” Fred rolled his eyes. “That’s why it’s a secret.”


Fred’s face sported a huge grin, one of immense self-satisfaction, confidence, and joy. Jim couldn’t help but think he was completely delusional.


Fred continued. “Henry Ford…drum roll please … wanted to destroy glaciers.”




“Yeah, glaciers. Isn’t that awesome, in a twisted James Bond, super villain sort of way.”


Jim dropped his chin and placed both hands on his forehead. He spoke softly and slowly, as if appeasing a child, “What glaciers?”


“All of them of course.”


Jim grimaced. “Well then, let’s be glad he failed. Now about the rent…”


“But he didn’t fail,” Fred said as he jumped up from the couch. “That’s just it. The bastard succeeded. Glaciers are melting.”


“You’ve been watching Al Gore again.”


“Yeah, but listen….” Fred stopped when he saw the deep skepticism on Jim’s face. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a book. “Read this.”


Jim grabbed the book and glanced at the title.


Slaughterhouse-five? I didn’t know you were a Vonnegut fan.”


Fred shrugged. “I picked it up during banned-book week. Check out the highlighted passage on page three.”


Jim flipped to the page and read the lines aloud.


“You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?”

“No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?”

“I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?’”

What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.


Jim looked up from the book. “Okay, glaciers, war, Vonnegut cynicism. What’s this have to do with Henry Ford?”


Fred’s eyes lit up as he moved around the living room, caught up in the moment. “Well, it got me thinking. We’re doing a pretty good job stopping glaciers, aren’t we? What with global warming and all. Everyday there’s a news story about it. Antarctic ice shelf breaks into the sea. Ski resorts with less snow. North Pole becoming ice free, polar bears stranded, international conflict over possible Northern Passage shipping lanes. Crazy stuff. It’s almost as if mankind had declared war on glaciers.”


“A war on glaciers?” Jim said as he leaned back in the chair, arms folded across his chest.


“Yeah, well, not a war, but something far more effective – because it’s working right? How many wars can say that?”


“Fred, no one’s even sure humans are causing global warming. Natural variation …”


Fred waved his arms in dismissal. “Oh, don’t give me that crap. Human fingerprints are all over climate change.”


“Maybe so,” Jim said. “But what’s Ford got to do with glaciers?”


“Well it got me thinking. Glaciers are melting because of global warming and global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, which are increasing because of our addiction to fossil fuels.”


“So they say.”


“Well then how did we get addicted? Did someone push it on us?”


“Fred, what are you talking about? We don’t need someone ….” Jim buried his face in his hands as realization dawned. “You think Henry Ford pushed oil on us, is that where you’re going?”


Fred nodded. “Exactly, or some other big industrialist. Rockefeller, Mellon, Ford. They all had more power than most governments. It’s just an idea, so I started doing research and found this.”


Fred reached into his backpack for another book. Jim grabbed it and looked at the title, Combustible Personalities – the Minds behind Machine Marvels by Montgomery Washington.


“Sounds exciting,” said Jim.


“Just read it.”


Reluctantly, Jim turned to the page marked by an old candy wrapper. The chapter began with a straightforward biography but evolved into an interesting exploration of the personality quirks of his subject. Washington claims that Henry Ford, creator of the Model-T, innovator of mass production, hated glaciers. He surmises that Ford didn’t hate glaciers because of what they were (the guy wasn’t crazy – how can anyone be passionately disturbed by ice?), but rather what they did – nothing. Glaciers just sit there covering up perfectly good land. Ford saw it as an affront to his guiding principle of efficiency. He believed it would be much better to take the land hidden under tons of snow and ice and convert it into farmland. Increasing agricultural production was a subject that increasingly obsessed Ford. But Ford, Washington states, was a practical man. He focused on improving the mechanization of farms not on some quixotic quest to till moraine.


Jim sighed as he looked up from the book. “Fred, did you bother reading the whole thing? Ford didn’t do anything about glaciers.”


“Jim, Jim, Jim.” Fred shook his head as he repeated the name. “Of course Washington said that. Did you expect him to find Ford taking a blowtorch to Greenland? Think of what the press would have said about that – ‘Ford Freaks at Fjord.’ No, if Ford was intent on getting rid of glaciers, he’d be more subtle.”


“Or more interested in making cars than wasting his time on this crap.”


“No, man. You’re missing the point.” Fred moved to the window, gesturing towards it, as if imploring his roommate to view deeply the world outside. “Ford did both, but only one was obvious. His manufacturing techniques completely revolutionized the world. Ford made cars and other goods affordable for the common man, but he didn’t do it for the sake of making stuff or getting rich. He did it to melt glaciers.”


“You’ve lost me, Fred.”


Now it was Fred’s turn to speak slowly, if not softly. “It’s simple. Carbon dioxide gets emitted from car exhaust, from the manufacturing process, from massive deforestation to obtain rubber to make tires. Every step puts CO2 into the air and enhances the greenhouse effect, every step raises the planet’s temperature, every step melts glaciers. Don’t you see? Vonnegut was wrong, stopping glaciers is easy. We don’t need an anti-glacier book, we’re living it.” Fred was getting excited again, fueled by his own voice breathing life into his ideas.


Jim closed his eyes and rubbed his temple with his left hand. He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. “Fred, you’ve got to be joking. You’re just playing me, right.”


“No, man. I’m serious. Ford wanted to destroy glaciers and he succeeded.”


“But, that’s insane.  I mean, Ford couldn’t have even known about the greenhouse effect. It was discovered long after his death.”


“Nah, you’re wrong.” Fred said with apparent delight. “A Swedish chemist named Arrhenius figured out the basic principles in 1896. The guy later won a Nobel Prize. Someone as knowledgeable as Ford would have read his work.”


“But come on, how could…”


“Ford knew what he was doing. He sold cars, got everyone hyped up about mass production, and in the process secretly altered climate and destroyed glaciers. It’s brilliant! Everyone helps but no one knows.”


“Except you.”


“Except me.” Fred said as he grinned, then added “And now you.”


“I’m honored.”


“So what do you think?”


“I think you’re crazy!” Jim paced the room. “You’ve no proof, just the most contrived, circumstantial evidence. It doesn’t make sense.” He stopped and directly addressed Fred. “For one thing, Ford was a businessman. What businessman waits 100 years for his plan to work?”


“But that’s his brilliance. His expressed business succeeded from the start. He made a fortune. And once the cars started rolling, once mass production caught on, his ultimate plan, his secret mission, couldn’t be stopped. Emitting CO2 doesn’t affect the price of a car or anything else, so who would object? It’s a free by-product that changes the world, just as Ford intended.”


“Fred, you’re talking about externalities. No one bases business plans on externalities.”


“Don’t go throwing your business school vocabulary at me,” Fred said. ”I don’t know anything about exter-whatevers. What I do know is that Ford made cars to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s what happened, that’s what he did. And I can prove it.”


“Oh really, you can prove it? Do it then. Show me real evidence. Go ahead. I would love to see it. But until you do, stop trashing a great American hero and wasting my time. I’ve got things to do.” Jim marched off to the kitchen.


Fred, annoyed, followed. “I should have known you couldn’t handle the truth. If it doesn’t make you money, you’re not interested. Well, truth is more valuable than money.” Without waiting for a reply, Fred stormed off to his room.


“Don’t forget the rent!” Jim called just as Fred slammed his door.


What an idiot, Jim thought as he went about preparing dinner.  The guy is completely unhinged. He’s pathetic really. Jim grabbed fresh clams from a bag in the refrigerator. How could anyone believe Ford wanted to cause global warming? It’s ridiculous. Still, he thought as he placed the clams in salt water, if Ford had wanted to change the climate then promoting industrialization was the way to go. Make money off cars but change the world by releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide – two outcomes from one plan. And as Jim sautéed garlic in butter, he realized that maybe the solution to too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is to reverse Ford’s supposed tactic – sell something that had captured carbon. Make carbon the raw material for a product that people want. He’d make money off the product and remove carbon from the air at the same time. That was it! In an instant, he knew what he wanted to do. Jim smiled for the first time that day as a business plan took shape; all he needed was a product. What could take carbon in and people would buy? He started thinking about what he knew about carbon dioxide – it wasn’t much. He knew it was in soda, but then couldn’t figure out why it went flat. Wouldn’t the CO2 in the air enter the soda and keep it bubbly? His ignorance didn’t damper his excitement at the entrepreneurial potential of his idea. He looked out the window at the clear blue sky and chuckled, not believing he was inspired by Fred’s far-fetched conspiracy theory, but that was the truth.  He would make this work, but first he had serious research to do.




Over the next month, Jim spent every spare moment researching and developing his idea. He hadn’t seen much of Fred, who had barricaded himself in his room when he wasn’t at work. Jim hoped that Fred took his criticism to heart and abandoned his ridiculous idea. But one day after Business Accounting, a classmate named Jill came over to him and asked if he had seen the video.


“What video?” Jim replied.


“The one by your roommate.”


Jim’s stomach twisted. “No, I haven’t.”


“You gotta see it – everyone else has. It’s gone viral.” She grabbed Jim’s laptop, opened YouTube and typed “Ford glaciers” into the search box. The top hit was a video called “Hank’s Secret Mission” posted by DreadFred last week. Jim looked on in disbelief as he saw the number of views.


“Four million! In one week. How is that possible?”


“I told you it went viral.”




“Just watch it. It’s hilarious.”


Jim pressed play and watched with apprehension as a crude cartoon version of Fred spoke. It was all there – Fred’s entire theory in a 4 minute cartoon. A deranged Henry Ford drove a Model T over a glacier, ignited a blowtorch while dancing and singing “Hot Hot Hot.” Ford then swam in the glacier melt, smiling happily as the water flowed over corn fields on its way to the sea. The corn fields gave way to development, the number of cars grew exponentially until the whole planet looked like an overfilled parking lot and a guy who couldn’t find a spot for his Expedition yelled, “We need to build another lot.” Then the cars filled with water as the oceans rose and men in business suits with “Vote for Me” buttons sat on car roofs, playing violins. When it stopped, Jim sat dumbfounded, his jaw slack.


“Isn’t it hilarious?” Jill asked. “Where does he come up with it?”


Jim ignored her and looked again at the number of hits. “Unbelievable.”


Jill stood up, slightly offended. “Yeah, well, I gotta go. When you see Fred, would you give him this?” She slipped Jim a piece of paper. He glanced at it and saw her phone number. Unbelievable.  He threw the paper away as he walked out the door.


When Jim got home, he found Fred in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal. Jim sat down across from him.


“So after class today, Jill just showed me something interesting,” Jim said.


“Man, I wish she would show me something interesting. She is fine!” Fred replied as he poured another magically delicious bowl.


Jim ignored the comment. “She played a YouTube video by some goofball named DreadFred.”


Fred burst into a huge grin. “Oh yeah, did she like it?”


“Yeah, she liked it. Thought it was hilarious.”


“Hilarious?” Fred said. “I wasn’t trying to be funny.”


“No? What were you trying to do?”


“Just spreading the truth,” he said as he walked to the refrigerator to get a beer.


“The truth? I thought you were going to lay off your conspiracy theory until you had proof.”


“Proof is overrated.” Fred popped open the can. “A cool video and slick webpage are far more effective.”


“So that’s it?” Jim asked. “What do you expect the inspired masses to do with your truth?”


“I dunno, rise up against him.”


“The dude is long dead.”


“But his influence isn’t.”


“Geez, Fred. This is insane.”


“No, man. Getting the world hooked on fossil fuels is insane.” He sat back down and resumed eating. “I’m trying to get us off.”


“No, Fred, you’re just trying to get yourself…” Jim paused and reached into his briefcase and tossed a large file onto the table in front of Fred. “If you really want to help the environment, take a look at this.”


“What is it?”


“My business plan to save the planet.”


Fred smirked and took the file. “Since when did you care about the planet? It’s always been about money with you.”


“Who says I can’t do both?”


Fred flipped through the papers. “What is all this? You’re going into the seafood business?”


“And construction.”


“Seafood and construction? What the hell. How’s that going to help.”


“Come on, Fred. You’re the grand theorist. Can’t that big brain of yours make the connection?”


Fred put down the papers and slurped a spoonful of sugary cereal. He licked the bluish milk off his moustache and stared at Jim. After a few moments, he gave up. “Okay, you win. Fill me in. What’s the connection?”


“I’m going to raise clams.”


“Sounds yummy.” Fred said.


“You do know sarcasm is a sign of a weak mind, right?”


“No, really?” Fred replied as he downed the beer.


“Anyway, I’ll sell the clam meat in a variety of products.” Jim tapped his fingers on the table as if pressing buttons on a calculator. “Lots of value added stuff – that’s where the big money is.”


“How innovative,” Fred said as he picked out a misshaped pink marshmallow from the bowl.


“And then I’ll use the discarded shells to make concrete.”


“Concrete?” Fred looked up in surprise.


“Yeah concrete. People in the South used to do it. It’s called Tabby.”


“Okay, so you’re recycling your waste. Very eco-hip of you, but how does it address climate change?”


“Fred, any idea what’s in a clam shell?” Jim said in a failed attempt to not sound condescending.


“Other than the clam?”


“Calcium carbonate. Clams incorporate carbon dioxide into themselves. With a business growing clams, I’m going to remove carbon dioxide from the environment. And since the shells are then turned into concrete, the carbon stays trapped for a long time.”


Fred wasn’t impressed. “Even if that works, which I doubt, you’re not trying to help the environment. You’re just trying to make money.”


“So? What’s wrong with doing both? My business plan projects profitability of both the seafood and construction material operations in their own right. But once a carbon tax or cap and trade, or whatever other carbon control scheme the government implements, I’ll be perfectly positioned to benefit from it.”


Fred snarled. “The only position I’d like to see you in is flat on your face as your business crashes.”


“What’s your problem Fred?” Jim asked. “It was your stupid theory that inspired me. You claim Ford made cars to release carbon dioxide. I grow clams to remove it. Our goals are hidden in externalities.”


“There you go spouting off economic lingo again. Stop trying to show off.” Fred said.


“But …”


“The only way to stop climate change is to get people to stop driving and start conserving energy. Period. That’s it.” Fred proclaimed.


“Yeah, good luck with that, Fred. Your little video is going to make everyone take up walking.  And even if everyone heard your message, there’d still be too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. My business will remove it and …..”


“Business. It’s always about business with you. It’s business that got us into this mess.”


“Businesses make money by providing solutions to people’s needs and people need a solution to climate change.” Jim paused, collecting his thoughts. “My approach is just to offer a solution that will work even if one doesn’t want to help. No guilt, no resistance. Why would you object to that?” asked Jim.


Fred said nothing, just continued to flip through the pages. “It’s not going to work. It’s too small to be effective.”


“It’s a start Fred. And as my business grows, so will its benefit to the planet. It’ll work,” Jim said looking directly in Fred’s eyes. “And I could use your help.”


Fred was taken aback. “Why?”


“Your video.”


“I thought you hated it.”


“I did, but apparently four million people don’t agree with me.” Jim said. “I could use that kind of publicity.”


Fred sat straight up and pointed his spoon at Jim. “Let me get this straight. You make fun of me, call my idea crazy, then get inspired by it, and want my help promoting your own crazy idea.”


“Yes,” Jim replied.


“Okay, I can deal with that.” Fred slurped more cereal. “Tell you what. I’m going to read the rest of your business plan. If I like it, if I think it’s actually going to help the environment and it isn’t just greenwashed BS, then I’m in. But I’m still going to push my truth. I gotta be me.”


“I wouldn’t want it any other way. So go ahead and read it, just…” Jim paused as Fred scooped up another helping of cereal, right over his papers.


“What now Jimbo?” Fred asked.


“Just don’t drip milk on my plan! Come on, show some respect.”


Fred smirked as he pushed the papers aside. “Anything else, your highness?”


“Yeah,” Jim smiled. “Rent’s due.”