Gas emissions, in general, have never had “good press,” and carbon dioxide, in particular, has lately gotten a bad name with all the excitement about climate change. One might argue that if reality is perception, the problem isn’t that we need to do anything crazy like trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. No, we just need to give this misunderstood gas a little bump in the PR department.
In this spirit, the South Dakota House of Representatives recently passed a resolution calling on educators to teach climate change as “just a theory. They not only cited “astrological” reasons for doubting that humans affect the climate, but gave our friend CO2 this little high-slap.
WHEREAS, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life on earth. Many scientists refer to carbon dioxide as “the gas of life.”
True, you can buy “gas of life” t-shirts, now, but let’s face facts. When you call carbon dioxide “the gas of life,” it sounds like some really old person is talking about taking massive doses of fiber. If the climate skeptics want to reel in the younger crowd, they’re going to have to up their game. Perhaps they could have Snoop Dogg do commercials where he calls carbon dioxide “the Gazizzle of Lifizzle.” If they want to rehabilitate chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which not only were used as refrigerants, but also destroy the ozone layer and are powerful greenhouse gases, they could call them “Chillin’ Gas,” or some such.
But even if the South Dakota legislators could do better, they still put Utah’s legislators to shame. All we got was Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) yelling, “It’s not a pollutant, then it’s not going to kill you. It’s not going to kill plants. Is that correct? I have a degree too, Professor.” And Rep. Dennis Stowell (R-Parowan) explained, “It’s odorless, colorless, stable, I view it as being self-regulating.” The “self-regulating” comment was not helped by the fact that Rep. Stowell is, in fact, pretty old.
This kind of half-hearted PR campaign just isn’t going to cut it if our legislators want to rehabilitate the ultimate “gas of life,” methane. Methane (CH4) is a major component of “natural gas,” both the kind that we pipe into our houses for heating and cooking and the kind that is emitted from various animal orifices, and it is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 (although there isn’t as much of it and it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere.)
In fact, protection of livestock methane emissions was one of the major reasons that Rep. Kerry Gibson (a dairy farmer) got worked up enough to sponsor HJR 12, the resolution that urged the EPA to drop any plans to regulate CO2 emissions. Here’s what Rep. Gibson had to say about it in the Senate committee hearing where HJR 12 was discussed.
Who would have ever thought a few years that there would have been a proposal to have a tax on cows, to have a tax on CO2 coming from animals. Ok, there has literally been a proposal proposed by the EPA for a cow tax that would cost millions and millions of dollars to Utah agriculture because of their emitting of CO2. Now, if a cow can emit CO2, what would that mean for a person? Should we tax people?
Well, it isn’t really CO2 emissions from cows the EPA is worried about—it’s methane. (Note to Rep. Gibson: Despite your claim that being a dairy farmer provides “all [you] need to know” about the climate change issue, you really, honestly do need to know the difference, in terms of chemistry, between breathing and passing gas to tackle this one. Really.) The truth is that the EPA proposed a rule that would require cattle lots with the largest manure management systems to report their methane emissions if they are greater than 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. (CO2 equivalent refers to the greenhouse potential of any gas compared to CO2.) The rule (if implemented) would affect the largest 40 or 50 cattle operations, and cost them each about $900 to implement. No per-head tax on cattle was ever proposed, despite wild-eyed fear mongering that was started by the New York Farm Bureau. The fact is that livestock account for a large proportion of the methane emissions associated with human activities, however. So if we end up doing anything about greenhouse gas emissions, we will probably have to address the issue of livestock methane emissions in some way.
It’s going to be an uphill battle to rehabilitate the image of this particular gas, though. I mean, I tried really hard to come up with a cool label for it, but I just couldn’t rid my mind of memories associated with getting caught behind a pig truck on a one-lane highway in Iowa.
So good luck with that, Utah legislators! Don’t let little things like physics, or even honesty stop you from doing what needs to be done to shape reality into a more welcoming setting for your product: bull crap.