The recent scare by the IPC on global warming got me thinking. It is about time we got really serious about this topic and, instead of worrying so much about carbon dioxide, let’s go after the big climate change agent: methane. Most living organisms emit it when they ingest fiber so there are all kinds of proven culprits here including us.
Before we focus on our species, let’s take a quick look at two other known bad actors about which we can do something pretty easily: cows and termites. I am so glad that really smart people have spent countless hours funded by you and me to take a closer look at this. Here is one of their more recent published works: Cow Farts Have ‘Larger Greenhouse Gas Impact’ Than Previously Thought; Methane Pushes Climate Change.
See the study presented at the national science academy: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/11/20/1314392110.abstract
Now, you may be surprised to also know that our politicians thought enough about this critical issue to fund a study on alternative grasses that could be fed to cows to reduce their emissions. Some naïve politicians suggested corks, but I have been surprised that someone hasn’t come up with a cow afterburner that simply sits on the hindquarters of the cow and sensing the emission by actions of the sphincter immediately fires up a catalytic converter to reduce the methane to the less harmful carbon dioxide.
I will not even begin to attempt to understand the wood burning fireplace folks who say that is carbon neutral. Yes, I get that it wood is a renewable source of fuel, but I have to admit that somehow, despite my Masters in Chemical Engineering from one of this country’s top engineering schools, I still do not fully understand that burning wood in seconds is better than letting it sit around on the ground and eventually return as God intended: dust to dust. Somehow the idea of converting this natural process which takes decades to instantaneous production of carbon dioxide is going to reduce global warming? I think the math is flawed, but who am I do say.
So, let’s return to safer ground and get back to another critical critter: termites. Critical thinkers will immediately include termites in the list of species we should eradicate. After all, they have an extremely high fiber diet. Seems ironic that we have a huge industry in the US whose sole purpose is to get rid of these and they still persist. Maybe we should no longer build our houses out of wood. That’s it, let’s cut off their food supply!
Oh, and we are in the list as well. After all, we not only respire (and therefore we should limit the population on the planet) but we are discouraged from eating fiber. Maybe we should all be required to take Beano®. This certainly lobbies against Mexican food in my mind. Tragic.
I have to admit, I am having increasing difficulties explaining things that are intrinsically complex to every day folks. The phrase that comes to mind is “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.” For example, everyday Americans simply have no patience for the truth when it is harder to understand than a nice simple lie.
It is easy to fail to see the truth when you do not speak the language of truth. Math is like that. This is why the State Legislature of Virginia once attempted to round Pi to 3. As you progress through college and through graduate school as an applied mathematician, you are introduced to higher levels of abstraction that can tackle bigger problems but they also require conversance in the workings of that formulation.
It gets much worse when you tackle intrinsically complex subjects like heat transfer, reaction kinetics, and thermodynamics where concepts like entropy are introduced. Isenthalpic processes are one thing but isentropic can just seem weird until you truly understand it. There was a joke question back when I was in graduate school that went viral even before we had anything to transmit is that quickly.
The question was, is Hell exothermic? You can check this out for yourself. It is a true story. A thermodynamics professor had written a take home exam for his graduate students. It had one question: “Is hell exothermic or endothermic? Support your answer with a proof.” Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:
“First, we postulate that if souls exist, then they must have some mass. If they do, then a mole of souls can also have a mass. So, at what rate are souls moving into hell and at what rate are souls leaving? I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.
As for souls entering hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to hell.
With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change in volume in hell. Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the ratio of the mass of souls and volume needs to stay constant.
So, if hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose. Of course, if hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, than the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.”
It was not revealed what grade the student got. I think he deserves an A. Frankly, I am prone to give a lot of people today an F … and you can quickly guess what that stands for.