Thursday, April 26, 2007

Everything tastes better when you're thirty

This week The World Today (along with most other programs) seems to be doing a series of environmentally-minded shows, likely because of Earth day last weekend. It was also my birthday this week, so maybe they're doing it for me - who knows. Either way, it's been pretty interesting.

On Tuesday night, they reported that Richard Branson is touting Virgin Air's plan to use an ethanol-like fuel instead of regular gasoline at some point in the future. I was glad that they tried to debunk the "we're so socially minded" advertising by interviewing an environmental activist pointed out that bio-fuels aren't that great, because they have a large carbon footprint when you add up all the fertilizer used to grow and store them. Unfortunately, after starting off strong, he began to discuss how if you used grasses or cut down rainforests (why on earth would you do that?) to get the fuel rather than using corn, you would be releasing carbon into the air that the plants were currently locking into the ground (?) and you'd be replacing them with a monoculture (?) and by the way the solution was that we should all stop flying airplanes for the next 15 years or so while we collected fuel from renewable sources. Okay, glad they got someone realistic there.

On Wednesday night, James Fletcher did a great report about indirect carbon footprints. Instead of just looking at our direct CO2, he argued, we should look at the CO2 released by all the things we buy and eat. As an example, he figured out the amount of CO2 released by a cheeseburger. To do this, you need to add up the amount emitted by growing the tomato and lettuce and wheat for the bun, the amount thrown off by transporting the food to the restaurant or processing facilities, the amount used in cooking, and most importantly, the amount that comes from the cow through it's regular bodily functions. A cow releases methane of course, which is apparently 28 times worse for the ozone layer than CO2, and, I guess because they have four stomachs with which to ferment food, and especially because of all the corn the poor things are fed in our industrialized farming society (which causes intense indigestion) - they burp and fart a lot. Enough that the footprint for one cheeseburger is four and a half pounds of CO2! Just another reason for me to be glad I don't eat red meat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to see the numbers supporting the idea that "bio-fuels aren't that great, because they have a large carbon footprint when you add up all the fertilizer used to grow and store them". Switchgrass wouldn't be fertilized and wouldn't really be sprayed (the point of switchgrass is that it is cheap to grow and fertilizers and herbicides are expensive) and plants fix a lot of carbon. Maybe this "expert" wasn't the best of experts, but I've heard this idea bantered around a lot and I'd be curious to know where it is coming from.
(Fun fact - Rubisco, the enzyme that fixes CO2 - is the most abundant protein on earth.)