Archive for Monday, February 18, 2008

Energy decisions will catch up with us

February 18, 2008


Boy, am I relieved. The Japanese have invented a supplement to help cows produce less methane gas, which is an even worse greenhouse gas than CO2. We could have a serious threat brewing to our west with all the giant feedlots in western Kansas plus those coal plants we all know will get built - profit for big business always trumps health, whether our own or our planet's.

Japanese biotechnology to the rescue just in time. I've got a list of other gases they should work on: the emissions from talking heads of every political stripe on CNN, FOX and MSNBC. To escape them, I flipped through the channels, landed on the History Channel and saw the world exploding.

A controversial scientific theory states that gigantic eruptions of methane gas from deep in the ocean have occurred regularly throughout history and could happen again due to oxygen-poor basins in the ocean where methane might accumulate. Even a small explosion could cause a catastrophe, generating giant tsunamis that would wipe out our coastal areas and flood for miles inland. If that's not bad enough, according to this theory, methane-laden clouds would auto-ignite, and the massive fires could cause widespread destruction, throwing mankind into a Dark Age - if we survive at all.

As the TV scientist droned on, I watched realistic-looking simulations of cities crumbling and going up in flames as 80-foot tsunamis washed across Florida, Manhattan and San Diego : until I feel asleep, exhausted by all the doom.

It doesn't help that I just finished reading "The Road," Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic masterpiece in which a father and son travel by foot through a desolate, burned out American landscape in search of food as they try to avoid bands of desperadoes who are resorting to cannibalism to stay alive. (I really like that word "postapocalyptic," which I found on the book's back cover, a word that has thrown my spell-checker into spasms.) I got to the end of the book and still don't know what caused the world to be reduced to ash. Could it be those methane eruptions?

The problems reach far beyond burping cows. I think we should probably ban anything that starts with the four letters METH. So that includes methane gas; crystal meth (as is methamphetamines); and methyl bromide, a poisonous gas used to kill rats and insects. But I think we could give Methodists a pass. They're harmless. And the downtown church has an outstanding bell choir.

I'm not sure about the methane eruptions. A number of scientists think the other scientists expounding this theory are kooks. But the rest of it - face it, our addiction to oil-based transportation, which has caused us to decimate our landscape, and our selfish, callous disregard for the health of the planet - is all going to catch up with humankind eventually. Because our situation seems so hopeless, I make light of it. What else can I do?

Actually, I have done something. Along with my other 12 reasons for moving to Lawrence is the conviction that this is a good place to be when the disasters begin.

One: We are tsunami-proof and far from the hurricane zones (our tornadoes and blizzards are tough but survivable).

Two: We are surrounded by fertile farmland so we can grow our food locally. (Yes, I know too much of it has been swallowed by housing sprawl, but in a pinch we could plow up the lawns).

Three: We have some little oil wells pumping away out near Baldwin. Maybe they can produce just enough to keep the T running - if we don't foolishly deep-six our already endangered public transportation system. Hopefully by the time things get serious, we will have found a way to run those cute little buses on renewable energy.

Four: We have that filthy coal-burning electric plant on the north edge of town, and there are still a couple of active coal mines in southern Linn County a mere 80 miles away, if we can secure it and transport it here until we can generate electricity from better sources.

Five, and most important: Lawrence possesses a sense of community, a spirit of responsibility for one's neighbors. Yes, I know we're a contentious people, but compared to the rest of the country, we actually seem to care about one another, and I'm betting we'll pull together in a crisis.

Plenty of you will disagree with my rosy assessment of Lawrence. Keep it to yourself. It's all I have to hang onto until the methane explosions start.

Elizabeth Black is a writer living in Lawrence. A southwest Kansas native who attended Kansas University, she recently returned to Lawrence after living in Chicago and then on the East Coast for more than 30 years.


Meatwad 9 years, 7 months ago

"Two: We are surrounded by fertile farmland so we can grow our food locally. (Yes, I know too much of it has been swallowed by housing sprawl, but in a pinch we could plow up the lawns)."

According to the film "The End of Suburbia", we will be doing that! The film says we'll someday see multiple families occupying these sprawling "McMansions" and they will be growing crops on the front and back lawns.


Meatwad 9 years, 7 months ago

"profit for big business always trumps health, whether our own or our planet's"

Sad but too often true. You are right on Elizabeth. One of the problems here is that we have a horribly apathetic city when it comes to voter turnout. Too many people don't even vote or pay any attention to what is taking place in our city commission and planning meetings. 15% turnout for our last local election. And even though the state reps who represent us in Lawrence are good, the rest of the state is, as you know, mostly a very 'red' state. That is why unfortunately we probably will see more coal plants, here to pollute our air and sell electricity to other states. People care, but not enough of them. So I'm glad that someone who cares about our city has moved here and I hope more and more people read your words and decide it's time to pay attention.

Boston_Charley 9 years, 7 months ago

Okay, I know this is a serious subject, but my favorite part is where you tossed the Methodists in with all the other "meths".

gr 9 years, 7 months ago

"gigantic eruptions of methane gas from deep in the ocean"

Okay, how soon will it be spun like everything else that somehow, that's our fault?

Maybe it's caused by the result of .01% reduction of CO2? Someone could fantasize about how a slight reduction causes increased methane, which in turn results in less and less CO2, which snowballs and ending life as we know it!!! Then they could ask, How would you like to exist in a world with a methane atmosphere? Please, please, everyone do their part to prevent a methane earth.

Or, maybe it's all those people moving to Lawrence causing methane production down deep.

Tony Kisner 9 years, 7 months ago

I am buying in on the expoding Methane erruptions. My roomate in school lit his methane erruptions on fire all the time. One of those erruptions on large scale would be scarry and smelly.

Think globally and act locally, eat less beans.

bkliewer 9 years, 7 months ago

I saw another show on PBS where one scientist was suggesting that methane burps from the ocean may have caused some of the ships disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. They showed a wave tank simulation where a flood of methane bubbles reduced the buoyancy of a model ship to the point it submerged.

JohnBrown 9 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence is not protected from the super-volcano showing activity in Yellowstone. If it blows we will need the tsunamis to wash all that 40 feet of volcanic dust away. Only then will we be able to plow the lawns.

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