There’s good news: it seems that the better of the two oil pollution scenarios for the Keys (that I wrote about in last week’s column) is the one that is playing out. The Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico is moving farther south and away from the oil slick, which is being driven westward because of the prevailing easterlies. Most scientists are now in agreement that it’s increasingly less likely that we’ll see an oil slick disaster here in the Keys. (And we’re incredibly lucky that the Deepwater Horizon rig didn’t blow earlier in the year when all the cold fronts that came our way would have carried the oil right to our island shores.)
While it’s a huge sense of relief that the oil isn’t headed our way, it’s hard to find anything humorous at all about this environmental disaster. Leave it to former Marathon Mayor Chris Bull to provide a little levity – he forwarded an order form for a new British Petroleum T-shirt with the new BP slogan: “Bringing Oil to American Shores.” And that’s no Bull.
The slogan, “Drill, baby, drill!” has now morphed into, “Spill, baby, spill!” Sooner or later (probably sooner than any of us would like), our global society will face the reality that our petroleum reserves aren’t limitless, and that we need to develop an alternative to the oil we consume. It’s a drain on our economy, it has cost thousands of American lives in Middle Eastern wars, and we all know just how good it is for the environment.
Electric cars are touted as a potential alternative, and the concept does sound promising. It’s how the cars get their juice (coal- and oil-fired power plants?) and keep it (expensive and not-too-long-lasting battery technology) that are problematic.
At least for our automobiles, we might start seriously considering Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). We have a 50-year supply of CNG right here in our own country, which means we wouldn’t have to import it from some foreign nation that can’t stand us. Existing cars could be converted for CNG use (although very expensive now, the conversion kits would become cheaper as more and more cars were converted). New cars would already be manufactured to run on CNG or gasoline. Gas stations would really be “gas” stations, and fuel costs would come down, perhaps significantly compared with oil and gasoline. And CNG burns much cleaner than petroleum, so it’s more environmentally friendly as well. This could be our “bridge” fuel that will enable us to develop electric cars that actually work, as well as power plants (wind and solar) that aren’t dependent upon coal or oil. And we reduce emissions as a nice side effect.
Speaking of gas emissions, did you know that the average cow expels (through burps and flatulence) up to 400 pounds of methane gas every year? As a greenhouse gas, methane traps 20 times more heat than does carbon dioxide, and the United Nations has called livestock one of the most serious near-term threats to the global climate. That’s right – cows may be more dangerous to the planet that all of our cars, trucks, boats, planes, and buses.
Obviously, we can’t outlaw or “phase out” cows. But we might be able to treat the cause of the cow gas. Cows are ruminants, with special digestive systems that enable them to get nutrition from plant fibers. Before we started feeding cows soy and corn, they mostly ate grass. Scientists are researching what would happen to the cows’ methane output if they were fed something closer to their original food source. The goal, according to the research arm of the American dairy industry, is to reduce cow methane emissions by 25% by the end of the next decade.
It’s either that, or perhaps we retrofit all our cows with methane capture devices (cattle-lytic converters?) in order to protect our environment. Then we use the captured cow methane to power our CNG cars so we can go through our favorite burger joint’s drive-thru and start the cycle all over again. Then we can call our cars broken wind powered.
At least our cows won’t explode in the Gulf of Mexico…