Friday, February 7, 2014

The Grim News About Cow Flatulence

Yesterday, as I relaxed in front of our fireplace after snow-blowing the driveway, feeling toasty under a blanket, an Associated Press headline crossed my computer screen:
“Flatulent Cows Cause Methane Explosion at German Dairy Farm.”
Honestly, that’s what it said. Naturally, I was unnerved. I drew the blanket closer. What concerned me was not the obvious fact that a barn exploded due to cow farts and burps. After all, the barn was located thousands of miles from my home, and my family was safe. It was the larger global implications.
As local German police told the AP, the explosion was caused not merely by a few cows expelling methane gas — but by ninety at the same time.The incident was one more reminder that the already faltering effort to curb global warming has run into, well, headwinds. You don’t need a degree in Bovine Digestive Tract Disorder (BDTD) to know methane is a huge contributor to climate change. It’s 20 times more likely to trap greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. The planet’s 1.5 billion cows, according to a U.N. report, might be more dangerous to Earth’s atmosphere than trucks and cars combined.
Evidently detonated by a static electric charge that “caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames,” according to German police, the barn explosion just slightly damaged the roof and only one cow suffered light burns on a lightly used udder. But the larger global threat is worsening. The U.N. estimates that agricultural methane output could increase by 60 percent by 2030 if the world doesn’t curb its growing appetite for meat and milk. 
“Overall, we conclude that methane emissions associated with both the animal husbandry and fossil fuel industries have larger greenhouse gas impacts than indicated by existing inventories,” wrote the authors of a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
It would be an oversimplification to conclude that if the cow flatulence rate doesn’t drop, lower Manhattan could become an underwater reef. Still, every time we bite into a Big Mac, it’s not only our own gas we have to worry about. But that of every cow that had a part in the creation of that hamburger patty and American cheese slice.
As a world citizen worried about rising seas, drought, and the possibility of catching malaria while visiting Montreal, I want to look on the bright side. Today, ninety-seven percent of climate scientists – practically all of them – agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities. Maybe the overwhelming consensus will trigger action. Maybe the planet will get its act together and curb the greenhouse gases that cause global warming before it’s too late. Maybe solar and wind power and other alternative fuels will become economical replacements for fossil fuels. Maybe people will stop clear-cutting the Amazon. Maybe there’s hope for our great great grandchildren, after all.
It will take innovative thinking, that’s for sure, and I’m willing to contribute my two cents. For instance, has anyone considered putting Beano in the cow feed? While untried on cows, as far as I know, it might be worth a shot.
Perhaps if we put the issue front and center of every American, as I’m doing with this blog post, people will grow concerned enough to take action.
Hollywood could be a big ally in this regard. Perhaps Vince Gilligan should consider a sequel to his immensely popular TV crime drama Breaking Bad. It would be called, you guessed it, Breaking Wind.
Instead of an ailing middle-aged teacher who turns to making a highly explosive substance that upsets the social order, it’s about an ailing middle-aged teacher who turns to making a highly explosive substance that upsets the social order.
Right. Next topic.
David Kalish is the author of the comedic novel, The Opposite of Everythingwhich will be published in March. His author events this spring are in Saratoga, Brooklyn, and Long Island. Click here for more information.

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