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Steelhammer: Dairy air produces environmental problems, aviation solutions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Next time a cow asks you to pull her hoof, turn her down -- unless you like global warming.

According to a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the U.S. is releasing 50 percent more methane into the atmosphere than the federal government estimates, with much of extra natural gas coming from flatulence and belches produced by cattle.

Each day, multi-stomached cattle are each capable of producing 250 to 500 liters of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

While oil and gas development is also producing significantly more methane than previously estimated, cattle are passing gas at rate nearly double that computed earlier by the EPA, the study concluded.

Since U.S. methane emissions are trapping as much heat annually as all the carbon dioxide pollution from cars, trucks and planes produced in six months, the EPA may decide it's time to turn its attention from the so-called war on coal and focus on waging a new war against cow farts.

A few suggestions:

  • Remove soybeans from the bovine diet.
  • Make sure dairy produced cheese is cut in a climate-controlled environment.
  • Produce and distribute agribusiness-strength Beano.

While some researchers are looking for ways to reduce cow flatulence, others are viewing the bumper crop of moo-thane as a way to make lemonade out of lemons -- or more accurately, aviation gas out of cow farts.

Among the finalists in a "Fly Your Ideas" contest held earlier this year by the airplane manufacturer Airbus was a group of students from Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, who came up with a plan for a cow gas propulsion system to power an airplane.

According to the London Telegraph, the Aussie design team proposed installing refrigerated pods of liquefied moo-thane next to an aircraft's engines to facilitate flight, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 97 percent.

Readers greeted the plan with a degree of skepticism. In the comments section following the online version of the article, one person suggested an alternative:

"Could not each passenger be obliged to eat a tin of baked beans and a vindaloo curry six hours before departure?" he asked.

"As far as eco-propulsion systems go, this is a bit of a stinker," another reader opined.

I have to admit, I'm a bit skeptical as well. I'll believe it's feasible when cows fly.


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