Can't Sue Mother Nature
In the political rush to damn all man-made pollution, naturally occurring pollution is usually ignored (see WAW - Nov. '07, p.3). You can't sue Mother Nature.
In addition to the methane gas from livestock, and oxides of nitrogen from manure, no mention is made of pollution from pine forests or volcanic eruptions, either. Another piece of the puzzle is the estimated 400 gigatons of methane clathrate frozen in the Arctic Tundra, and beneath the oceans of the world. For reference, a gigaton is 1 billion metric tons.
As you point out, methane is 20 to 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming. The “don't confuse me with science, I've already made up my mind” mentality of many politicians and interest groups makes coming up with viable global warming solutions almost impossible.
Let's not ignore that China is going to start up an estimated two new coal-fired power plants per week over the next five years, none of which will have meaningful pollution controls.
Given mankind's inability to grasp the crisis, I fear we will probably do nothing concrete about global warming until it's too late and future generations will live with the consequences.
You make it clear in your article that livestock are more plentiful than cars, and methane is 23 times more potent to global warming than carbon dioxide.
But you should be specific about how much (or how little) methane is released from livestock and, hence, how the livestock contribution to global warming compares with that of the auto industry.
This additional data would make the article more complete and allow for a more robust defense of our industry at those sometimes awkward dinner parties!
Editor's note: A copy of the report “Livestock's Long Shadow,” mentioned in the editorial, can be accessed at: http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm
Time to Downsize, America
“Mass begets mass” is indeed the problem behind the seemingly unsolvable problem of reducing energy consumption in the U.S. (see WAW - Oct. '07, pp.36) But probably like you, I don't believe it is solvable by firstly placing demands on the auto industry.
Americans have become obsessed with large, fast and powerful things. We have taught ourselves over generations that our land and energy are the tools to build, grow, compete and prosper. And until now, our expansiveness has never caused us to look anywhere but West. Instead of thinking smarter, we got a bigger hammer, made wider roads and larger trucks, and our larger people become the effect of larger ideas.
The uncompromising call to downsize, however, should not and cannot start with the auto industry. Washington needs to legislate the use of carbon fibers for new, narrow roads and bridges, rail cars and skyscrapers. Meanwhile, smaller living standards will mean smaller homes, garages, boats and roads, which will pave the way for smaller, lightweight cars.
The electric car depends on its lack of mass. For it to work, we as a nation need to downsize before imposing unrealistic demands on industry. I say, shorten NBA players and reduce the mass of NFL linemen by getting rid of super-sized drinks and all-you-can-eat buffets. And start funding the hydrogen economy. Corn should be used for food, not for ethanol.
Few people will buy the Chevy Volt if big trucks are still around to blow them off the road, or if we have autobahns to test nature's limits. Our oversized ideals are a hundred years in the making. In our fast-moving economy, I expect a proper turnaround should take at least fifty more. But if we are committed as a nation, it is no longer a “catch-22,” but a plan.
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