A mountain of greenhouse gas (and housekeeping)

I have a big backlog of stuff to write about—more about ways of knowing, les folies de Templeton, accommodationism, penguins, cat hotels, and the like—but final exams are looming and I have to write one.  So for today I’ll just make a few announcements,  present a disturbing video, and then make up challenging questions for my undergrads.


1. By now everyone who donated to Doctors Without Borders should have received their book with a cat drawing.  Although few people acknowledged receiving one (ingrates!), if you haven’t gotten yours by next week let me know.

2. I’ll soon be auctioning off (again for DWB) a multiply-autographed copy of my book, complete with my cat drawing, Ben Goren’s notation with a genuine pawprint from his cat Baihu, and, of course, all those signatures of the luminaries at the Moving Naturalism Forward conference. I’m happy to report that Official Website Artist™ Kelly Houle has the book now, and is adding some of her splendid artwork to it as well. This is going to be a keeper, full of nice stuff (and I don’t mean my writing!). Here’s a screenshot before Kelly’s artwork, with autographs, slogans, and diagrams from every participant at the conference (note Steven Weinberg’s Feynman diagram producing a Higgs boson):

Wouldn't this look nice on your shelves?

Wouldn’t this look nice on your shelves?

I want someone to bid a lot of money for this, as it’s a one-of-a-kind item (especially when Kelly’s artwork is added), and the money goes to a great cause. Start thinking about what you can afford!

Finally, the environmental news is this disturbing video of how much carbon dioxide is emitted over time by New York City.

Remember, this is just one of many cities. Is it any wonder the Earth is going to hell?

h/t: Matthew Cobb


  1. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Here’s a screenshot

    In my day we used to call them “photographs”.

  2. Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Re: New York CO2.
    In 2012, according to http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-population-time-high-article-1.1288402, NYC’s population was 8.34 million. That means the per capita CO2 emissions was 6.5 tonnes.

    But according to http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC, the US average is 17.3 tonnes/person-yr.

    Seems to me that NYC is doing a good job.

    This idea is supported by maps like that at http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/04/which-us-cities-tend-be-greenest/860/ which shows there are plenty of worse CO2 offenders than NYC in US.

    Cities can be far more “light” in terms of CO2 emissions than people may normally think.

    • Pierre Masson
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Yes, that’s true as far as it goes. However cities externalize a lot of the pollution that should be ascribed to them. They usually don’t extract the raw materials (be it iron ore for steel structures or food to nourish the people who live there, for instance) required for their continued existence.

      There’s a parallel to be made with the tar sands petroleum in Canada. The carbon footprint is added to Canada’s, even though a large part of the oil is eventually burned in the USA. Of course Canada, benefits in the same way since it imports a lot of oil too.

      • bachfiend
        Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        That argument also applies to all cities and all communities too. No one produces everything they need and some if not most of the CO2 emissions they’re responsible for is externalised. New York is actually doing a good job in comparison. Apartments are generally small and the ability to accumulate ‘junk’ is limited. Use of public transport is much higher too

      • Posted March 16, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        Thanks for that Pierre; you’re right of course. These are the problems with the current methods of doing LCA.
        This notwithstanding, I believe (and I welcome evidence to the contrary) that there remains a net environmental benefit to city living, and that we’re only starting to understand just how much more efficient cities could yet get.

  3. 3cheersforreason
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    “In a 2006 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that worldwide livestock farming generates 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions — by comparison, all the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13% of greenhouse gas emissions. Much of livestock’s contribution to global warming come from deforestation, as the growing demand for meat results in trees being cut down to make space for pasture or farmland to grow animal feed. Livestock takes up a lot of space — nearly one-third of the earth’s entire landmass. In Latin America, the FAO estimates that some 70% of former forest cover has been converted for grazing. Lost forest cover heats the planet, because trees absorb CO2 while they’re alive — and when they’re burned or cut down, the greenhouse gas is released back into the atmosphere. Then there’s manure — all that animal waste generates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has 296 times the warming effect of CO2. And of course, there is cow flatulence: as cattle digest grass or grain, they produce methane gas, of which they expel up to 200 L a day. Given that there are 100 million cattle in the U.S. alone, and that methane has 23 times the warming impact of CO2, the gas adds up.”




  4. Nathan
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    OT: But check out this 17 second clip of the CPAC crowd going nuts with applause when Rand Paul says he is going to eliminate the Dept. of Education!

  5. Daniel Engblom
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Off-topic, but since you mentioned that you’ll write about “other ways of knowing”, I’m curious if you’ve explored the question from the relativist angle? If you’ve read Alan Sokal’s Beyond The Hoax, Steven Weinbergs Dreams of a Final Theory?

  6. @eightyc
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Damn! That’s awesome!

    Can you at least make reprints?? Or is it going to be just a one true original multiply signed copy.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted March 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      If you want to click through to the large-scale image and hit Print, I don’t think anyone’s going to stop you.

  7. Jackie
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Again I will remind you, the difference between an ice age and an interglacial is merely 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide. That 100 ppm represents 18 to 25 degrees of climate shift over 10,000 years or so and the fluctuations for the last 4 million years have been from about 180 ppm during the ice age, to 280 ppm during the interglacial. At 394 ppm we are already well over 100 ppm above the normal interglacial CO2 concentration.

    Also, remember that CO2, methane and temperature are coupled, and in systems sciences, coupled means that whatever happens to one happens to them all. While everyone is focused on CO2 (and we do need to pay attention to that) remember that CO2 is merely
    ONE of the many greenhouse gases that are being dumped into the atmosphere at an astonishing rate – CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and most importantly water vapor. Heat increases evaporation and water vapor holds much more heat than any other gas. It is also important as a factor in phase change or change of state – how much energy is required to move water from an ice to a liquid to a gas and back again.

    One of the factors in what is happening now is that these normal climate changes take place over thousands of years, but we humans have created a circumstance where the atmospheric changes have happened in 30 years, not 10,000. A great part of the problem is the rate of change itself. And these consequences are happening faster than you can imagine. One way or another, this form of our civilization will end in our lifetime, yours and mine. The extinction is happening now. NOW! Not in some distant future.”

    The above is a quote from a commenter on “The Contrary Farmer” blog and he goes on to embed a talking heads video which you can find on youtube:

    Arctic methane: why the sea ice matters

    The description of RUNAWAY positive feedback is especially compelling.

  8. Ahab
    Posted March 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I know that the equation Sean Carroll wrote is Schrodinger’s, but I couldn’t figure out what the other 2 equations are about. Anyone here knows what they are ?

  9. Peter Beattie
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    By now everyone who donated to Doctors Without Borders should have received their book with a cat drawing.

    Hey, I’m an MSF Field Partner. I can haz kitteh book too? 🙂

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