The debate about global warming is raging hot these days, and no wonder. Not only is the weather more volatile than ever, but the topic is apparently tricky enough that even scientists are getting lost trying to traverse it. So how is the rest of us going to have a chance of finding out what is up and down?
A case in point. Recently there was a scientist who appeared to be comparing gas produced by cows and biofuel with the gas produced by fossil fuels. Which makes approximately just as much sense as comparing a velocity with an acceleration.
The issue is that cows and certain types of biofuel may produce more than just CO2. They also produce methane. Now, methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, so what is the obvious conclusion? Quite. ”Cows and biogas are a bigger problem than burning fossil fuels like diesel!” – which not only earns the man his 10 minutes of fame but also has the added benefit of making nice headlines for the journalists reporting it.
There is just one problem… it ain’t actually so.
Yes, it’s true that methane is a potent greenhouse gas. But – it is not stable. Over a mere 16 years, the methane will be transformed into ordinary CO2. The amount of methane in the atmosphere is thus expected to be quite limited.
But what about the CO2, which it breaks down to, then. Won’t that be a problem?
No, not really. The CO2 produced by cows and biofuel is recycled. Cows eat CO2 (in the form of grass and other vegetables), and they release it again as methane and CO2. But the grass they eat? That is regrown out on the fields – binding the CO2 back. And biofuel works the same way: the CO2 in the fuel is released when it is burned – and then it is bonded again as the bio-parts are regrown.
Biofuels – and cows – are ”CO2 stable” in the sense that biofuels, cows and CO2 actually may be in equilibrium. The only issue is if the population of cows – or bio fuelled cars – was to rise. In that case, the amount of methane in the atmosphere would also increase – by the same, proportionate amount. It is thus quite the same as a one-time change in velocity.
But how about fossil materials? Well, every time you burn a litre of diesel, you are releasing new CO2 into the atmosphere. OK, strictly speaking, it isn’t new – the oil from which diesel is distilled was created some 252 to 65 million years ago… but I think you get the picture: we can’t really wait that long for it to be bound again. So for all practical purposes: new CO2. And, new CO2 is – very bad. This is, for all practical purposes, an acceleration. A constant increase of CO2 which will continue for as long as we use fossil materials.
So when you are driving around in your fossil-fuel car, you are releasing more and more new CO2 into the atmosphere virtually forever. But if you switch to a biofueled car – then you are not, as at some point the CO2 and biofuel will be in equilibrium.
So actually, it is very simple. You just have to look at it the right way…
Oh, and if you care about your environment? Please share this message! It is about time that our brilliant scientists stop talking nonsense. Instead, let us focus on how we can stop the production of fossil materials in the fastest possible way. Because if we stop the production of fossil materials, we are also preventing the increase of CO2 in our atmosphere.
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