Stories tagged greenhouse gases

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have developed a new nanomaterial that could help reduce CO2 emissions produced by coal-fired power plants. This new material acts like a sponge and “soaks up” the carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere by trapping the CO2 molecules in tiny nano-sized pores. This new material is potentially much more energy efficient than other, current methods of separating out CO2 from power plant emissions.


Fried insect pupae: You have to admit, they look a little bit delicious, right?
Fried insect pupae: You have to admit, they look a little bit delicious, right?Courtesy Steven G. Johnson
If you're as big a fan of Science Buzz as I am, you might remember us saying that eating bugs can be a bad idea.

(I doubt you are as big Science Buzz fans as I am, though. Do you have a large, Party of Five-style poster of Liza, bryan kennedy, Artifactor, mdr, Thor, and Gene hanging in your room? Didn't think so.)

Anyway, despite what we might have said, it turns out that eating bugs may in fact be a good idea. But it's a good idea that's never gonna happen. (When I say "never," I mean "not in my lifetime, so as far as I'm concerned, 'never.'")

See, there are lots of folks who eat bugs (it's called entomophagy). And it's not all Fear Factor-style disgustingness—the insects are often cooked and flavored, and, you know, I'm sure they're fine. Like Corn Nuts.

But there are a lots more people who get their protein from eating larger animals, like cows and pigs and chickens and turkeys and stuff. And for a long time some people ate cows and pigs, and some people ate insects, and the world spun along just fine.

Then, not too long ago, people started to realize something: raising enough cows and pigs and things to feed billions of people has a tremendous negative impact on the environment. You have to feed each animal many times its weight in plants before it grows to full size, and all the while its pooping, peeing, and farting. And before you start complaining about how you're too young to read "pooping, peeing, and farting," let me say two things. 1) The alternative was to write "defecating, urinating, and flatulating," and you are too young to read that; and 2) animal poop, pee, and farts have a huge environmental impact.

When animal waste leaks into water sources, it can make them unhealthy to drink, and toxic to live in (if you're the sort of organism that lives in the water. And the various gases (like methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide) emitted by animals and their waste are a major source of global warming.

So there. It turns out that those of us who eat meat are straining the environment quite a bit.

But what about all those edible bugs? How do they fit in?

Well, a group of scientists from the Netherlands just published a report on that very thing. They compared the emissions of common meat animals to those of a variety of insects, and found that the world would probably be better off if we raised and ate bugs instead of cows and pigs.

See, insects are able to turn the food they eat into protein much more efficiently than cows and pigs, because insects' metabolisms don't constantly burn fuel to maintain a regular body temperature (like the metabolisms of cows, pigs and people do). In the end, for the amount of mass they build, insects produce less greenhouse gases than pigs, and way less than cows. The insects' production of ammonia (a source of water pollution) was also much less than cows and pigs. The long and the short of the research is that if we were to have farms raising delicious mealworms, house crickets, and locusts, we could reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

But I don't have high hopes for any of that; it's hard to imagine seeing insect-based food items on the shelves any time soon. Here's hoping though, right?

Food for thought

by Shana on Aug. 03rd, 2010

Yum!: Roasted crickets at a market in Mexico.
Yum!: Roasted crickets at a market in Mexico.Courtesy Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan

You may think that eating live cockroaches is a bad idea, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization thinks that eating insects may address a bevy of problems, such as poor nutrition in developing nations and the high greenhouse gas output from raising livestock for meat. Raising insects produces far less greenhouse gases and the insects provide essential proteins and nutrients, filling a similar role in the diet to meat. While people all over the world already eat insects, the critters may be hard to swallow in squeamish western countries where the practice is rare.


How convenient!: Jumpmeat, with a little pouch to hold more jumpmeat!
How convenient!: Jumpmeat, with a little pouch to hold more jumpmeat!Courtesy .robbie
Y’all got kangaroo knives, right?

What? You don’t have kangaroo knives? Well… I mean… what… How do you cut your kangaroos up, then?! This is madness! Cats and dogs, living together! Ewok Adventure! Sour candy! Madness!

I think there must be some kind of misunderstanding. A kangaroo knife isn’t necessarily like a big Crocodile Dundee knife* (although, that is a really nice kangaroo knife). No, pretty much any sharpish object can be a kangaroo knife. So, yes, a knife can be a kangaroo knife, but what else? A chipped rock? Yes, what else? Sure, a jagged piece of scrap metal would make a nice one. Anything else? A sharpened spoon? Very good, yes, a sharpened spoon could work. A fingernail? Well, I suppose it depends on the finger and the nail, but maybe.

I think you’re getting the idea. But why do we need all of these kangaroo knives in the first place? To be honest, it’s probably only the Australian Buzzketeers out there (maybe?) that would have any use for them, but it doesn’t hurt for the rest of us to be prepared. See, a recent article in the journal Conservation Letters recommends that expanding the kangaroo industry in Australia, and shrinking the cattle and sheep industries, would significantly cut the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, growing the kangaroo population to 175 million by 2020 (and reducing the cattle and sheep populations proportionately) would eliminate 16 megatons of greenhouse gas, or 3 percent of Australia’s total emissions.

It’s not just any old greenhouse gas that would be cut, either—we’re talking about methane, one of the stinkiest, hottest, greenhousiest greenhouse gases of them all. Ruminants—animals that chew cud and have multi-chambered stomachs, like cows and sheep—produce a lot of methane, up to 60 percent of global methane emissions†. A dairy cow can produce about 50 gallons of methane gas a day! Kangaroos, on the other hand, produce only about one third of the methane of a ruminant animal does. And, as a little environmental bonus, kangaroos’ large, padded paws are much easier on the land than the hooves of ruminants, and contribute less to erosion.

But what are we supposed to do with all these millions of kangaroos? Eat them, naturally. (This is where the kangaroo knives come in!) Kangaroo meat is reportedly high in protein, low in fat, and it has high concentrations of conjugated linoleic acid (a chemical that seems to have anti-cancer properties, and tends to reduce body fat in humans). But, you know, it’s kangaroo meat, which some people may have a problem with**.

It’s difficult to say, too, what the other environmental ramifications of increasing one animal’s population dozens of times over might be. Maybe the kangaroos could be trained to eat rabbits, or something.

Assuming y’all had some kangaroo knives, do you think you could deal with eating kangaroo? You know, for nature?

*Doesn’t Paul Hogan look like he’s about to do something just awful to Manhattan there?

†The EPA’s website says that ruminants only account for 28% of global methane emissions. But that’ still a lot.

**The kangaroo meat industry actually held a competition to come up with a new name for the meat that didn’t conjure up images of doe-eyes and fuzzy little faces. The finalists included kangarly, maroo, krou, maleen, kuja, roujoe, rooviande, jurru, ozru, marsu, kangasaurus, marsupan, jumpmeat, and MOM (meat of marsupials), but the winning name ended up being “australus.” Australus was for sure not the best name. The best name was “jumpmeat.”


One Billion Bulbs Science Museum of Minnesota Bulbs Change Statistics

The website One Billion Bulbs want to help reduce pollution, energy consumption, and greenhouse gases by getting people worldwide to change their old-style incandescent light bulbs to new compact fluorescents. Their goal: one billion light bulbs changed.

They still have a ways to go. As of this morning, they were around 56,000.

Science Buzz has decided to help! We want to see how many light bulbs our devoted readers can change. If you’re interested, go to this site. Click on “Join the Group” and register. Then, as you change out your light bulbs, record your activity.

The home page of One Billion Bulbs lists the most active groups. We’d like to see Science Buzz on that list! Join now!.

Want to know how much money you’ll save, and how much pollution you’ll prevent, by changing to fluorescent bulbs? Use this handy calculator:

(How many Science Buzz readers does it take to change a light bulb? We’ll find out soon enough!)