Saturday, September 8, 2012

Kangaroos will save us all

"He and his four stomachs know what he did. Don't be fooled by his cuteness."

He produced methane. That's what he did. The methane is warming the planet because it is 20 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. You read that right. Two. Zero. Forget carbon for a second, if we can get our methane under control than we can do enough to delay a crisis until the politicians finally come around.

If you ever cared, here is the digestive process of a cow and his stomachs (skip this if you don't):

1. Reticulum - the hardware stomach, where foreign objects collect that cannot pass through the digestive system; this compartment is also responsible for further breakdown processes from the rumen, and is the compartment where partly digested feed is collected to be regurgitated as cud.
2. Rumen - where bacteria and protozoa break down cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin and fibre from plant material; this is where the process of fermentation takes place
3. Omasum - absorbs water and digestible nutrients
4. Abomasum - which would be the true stomach, as it is in humans

Throughout this process, the cow is burping up methane as his stomach is attempting to breaking down whatever is in it. More difficult it is to digest, more methane the cow produces. If they are force-fed corn, then they are producing much more methane than those that are naturally raised on grass diets. Yet another reason - besides the fact it is just tastier and better for you - to eat grass fed cattle.

Instead of just feeding them grass, Science has another solution! Apparently kangaroos have four stomachs as well that do the same thing, but they do not produce any methane. There is a bacteria in their stomach(s) that breaks the methane down. Scientists are trying to take this bacteria and introduce it to beef cattle.We are a few years away to making this into a reality, but if they succeed than we can greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing our quality of life.

"Perhaps the planet can get hot enough to cook this delicious steak without the fire?"

If it all sounds a bit crazy to you, then I got you covered. There are much, much crazier ideas on how to use science to tackle climate change. After reading these, then it should put bacteria injection into perspective. The ideas vary from creating a giant cloud of ash to reflect sunlight back into space (imitating a volcano); building giant space mirrors to prevent sunlight from getting to us to begin with; and using "tree bombs" to plant new forests throughout the world. That's right - geoengineering our own planet went from a crazy idea of mad scientists to part of the mainstream discussion because the politics of a carbon tax was a non-starter.

Or we could just feed our cattle garlic... apparently its good for more than keeping vampires away... but what fun is that?

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