“We shouldn’t be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas.”
Forgive me this indulgence, but rather than devote the usual 500 to 1200 words to a given topic, I would like to scan a trio of topics and ideas that have caught my attention in the past week.
- The mantra “everything causes cancer” is far-removed from the truth. Out of the literally millions of known mixtures, compounds and elements, less than 500 are proven or probable carcinogens. As children and young adults, many of us never suspected city air, processed meat and alcohol to be among the culprits. This unfortunately leads some of us to wave the white flag and adopt the erroneous generalisation. But that defeatist attitude is music to the ears of the carcinogens’ users and producers who refuse to acknowledge responsibility. Speaking of music, sound is a form of energy, and along with radio waves and all the colours of the rainbow—none of those, unlike ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma, cause cancer.
- Something a little newer and more original. If as a teacher or student you hear of an oxidation-reduction partnership, the words might conjure up an image of people partnering up to do a redox lab. But until recently, not even the most specialized biochemists imagined that two different organisms were symbiotically working together to oxidize methane and reduce sulfate, respectively, in layers of sediment and rock under the sea floor. One of the microbes, a methanotroph which uses methane (CH4) as its energy and carbon source, reduces CH4 to hydrogen carbonate ion (HCO3–) in the absence of oxygen. But the metal ions that the organism uses to pick up electrons lost by methane are not efficient enough. A sulfate-reducing bacteria comes to the rescue. It uses the electrons released by the oxidation of methane to reduce sulfate (SO42-) to sulfide (S2-). Its reward? It too obtains energy in the process.
- There have been riots in Paris in early December 2018 over the proposed fuel tax. Since France does not generate very much CO2 in generating electricity (70% of the country’s power comes from nuclear energy), it would make more sense for them to subsidise electric car purchases and taxing new gasoline- powered automobiles. I’m never one to defend internal combustion automobiles, but let’s bear in mind that the entire transportation sector including ships, trains, planes and automobiles account for only 14% of carbon emissions. And then what impact will higher fuel prices actually have on consumption and consequent emissions? Even if it doesn’t lower emissions immediately, there’s another layer of strategy behind a carbon tax. It creates a pool of funds which can can then be used as incentives to lower emissions. For example, the money can be used to set up charging stations for electric cars. In Quebec the carbon tax has created a fund of close to a billion dollars but as of December 2018, it has not been managed properly. The new CAQ government in this province is not looking to abolish the tax but is looking into ways of assuring to meet the 2020 goal of cutting emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels.
Governments, however, need to quickly use a comprehensive approach so that all emissions are addressed and abated. The current focus on taxation of fuel, although better than no action at all, might not cut it. This is exacerbated by the fact that environmental values are are not deeply held and shared by enough people. As a result every mantra: “eat less meat”, “drive less”, “preserve forests”, etcetera, gets misinterpreted as an authoritative order. And too many of us are so talented at cutting our noses to spite the face of government. As an alternative strategy, the federal government can nourish the roots of the environmental grass movement. I know schools are asked to do an awful lot these days. But most schools do next to nothing about climate change. Yet they seem to find the time to peddle an awful lot of electronics and student travel. Here’s a list of things schools can do to be proactive about climate change:(1) Encourage teachers to use public transit or electric cars and not fill the parking lot with 19th century inventions.
(2) Compost cafeteria waste.
(3) Reduce and reuse before dumping stuff into recycling bins.
(4) Reward students for coming up with green ideas.
(5) Serve beef sparingly in the cafeteria. Replace it with more chicken meals, which have a much lower carbon footprint.
(6) Encourage local travel instead of flying or driving to remote destinations.
Nature Communications. Carbonate-hosted methanotrophy represents an unrecognized methane sink in the deep sea
Scientific American The Mystery of the Missing Molecules scientificamerican/journal/v319/n5/box/scientificamerican1118-32_BX1.html
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