Tuesday, August 9, 2011

fire (now with references)

So I suck at being good to the planet. I'm trying to make the right decisions, but even when I oh-so-virtuously manage to deny myself all kinds of things I feel are harmful, I still manage to mess it up.
I have just come back from camping with my family. It was mostly restful, except for the somewhat leaky tent one night and the steadily deflated blow-up mattress the next, but on the third day (of five), while I was sitting beside the fire pit nursing damp wood to life, I had a glimmer of memory about campfires being terrible for the environment. As I recall now, the information was given in reference to the Third World and their meagre choices for heat - wood, dung, garbage in some cases - but it made me realize that I was polluting the air too! Now you may be saying, Oh come on Bowen, surely a few campfires cannot do that much damage to the atmosphere! ...and in one sense you're right, but the Tragedy of the Commons (is that Thoreau or Malthus or someone else? - edit: it's someone named Garrett Hardin, and it was coined in 1968 in the linked article) dictates that if you and I think that way, basically so does everyone else, and suddenly we're all having just a few campfires by the thousands and the tens of thousands... you can see where this leads. So... what to do?
There are a few different factors to consider:
  1. apparently trees only remove CO2 from the atmosphere for a certain length of time. By some estimates, after about 100 years of life, trees begin to decay and return their CO2 to the air. So... by burning wood over a century old, does this create more CO2, or an equal amount? Edit: "Carbon sequestration," as it's called, does only last in trees for between 80 - 100 years, after which time it is offset by decay in the tree, which releases CO2. see here...
  2. we could consider using those indoor creosote-removing recycled-coffee-bean ready-made logs outside while camping. But are they meant for outdoors? Are they safe for cooking with? And, most pertinently, do they produce noxious and environmentally-damaging gases? Edit: depends who you talk to. This company says their logs are "greener," while this report (p2 under "Toxic Pollutants") says some of them release PCBs and other toxic gases.
  3. if no campfire, then all cooking must be done otherwise: is propane a better alternative?
...This also leads me to the dreadful conclusion that perhaps cooked food is worse for the environment than raw food. I am already a super-reluctant vegetarian; do I have to consider not eating anything cooked now too? Good God.
My second major revelation was to do with some of the snacky-type "vacation foods" we brought along, ostensibly for our daughter, but y'know. Oreos, for instance. Turns out Oreos are made with (cow-fat derived) shortening rather than butter (splitting hairs though? more on this...). Ack! And both a vegan friend of mine and our (very not-vegan) neighbour recently mentioned, separately in the same week, that they don't eat Jell-O because of its gelatine, which of course is from cow hooves.
And suddenly I felt foolish and simple-minded in my conviction not to eat "beef." It seems fairly clear that all the "fruit of the bovine" may be just as bad as beef itself (quick! creative writers! new Creation myth where the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is actually a cow! go! oh and also, now the serpent is actually Adam's little girl saying, "but daddy you love beef! you should stop being a vegetarian. I want you to be happy!" Please also read Timothy Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage for reference). Given that I don't eat beef anymore because of methane (a greenhouse gas which I have cited numerous times as being 90x more toxic to the atmosphere - technically the troposphere, Jack and Annie and their Magic Treehouse recently pointed out to me), isn't buying dairy products just supporting the same industry and therefore the production of the same toxic gases? Argh!
so... do goats burp or fart?