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November 2005: Notes of Interest

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This information is taken from an enlightening article, “Counting Carbons,” by Richard Conniff in the August 2005 issue of Discover: The author notes: “Experts on greenhouse-gas emissions tell me that every time my car burns a gallon of gasoline, I am putting more than 25 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as a smaller amount of methane, nitrous oxide, and various other toxic gases.” He ponders why this can be so when a gallon of gas weighs about four times less. He finds: “Gasoline and jet fuel are about 90 percent carbon. Combustion causes almost every atom of carbon in the fuel to combine with two atoms of oxygen, producing carbon dioxide.” This adds up to about 19 pounds of CO2 with the rest of the weight coming from manufacturing the gas and transporting it to market.

The author includes illustrations which show what amount of carbon dioxide is produced annually by households, household appliances and transportation. This is based on one kilowatt-hour of electricity producing 1.64 pounds of CO2. A refrigerator produces 2,032 pounds, a clothes dryer 1,770, an electric stove 1,600, a large TV 525 and a computer 196. The article states that in appliances that are always left on, like TVs, computers and stereos, “60 percent of their electricity is consumed while the devices are not in use.” A typical American house, which in the last 25 years has increased in size from 1,740 square feet to 2,330 square feet, puts a total of 28,350 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. This includes air conditioning, space heating, water heating and lighting and appliances. A midsize car driven 12,000 miles a year produces 12,350 pounds of CO2, while a new SUV driven 15,000 miles the first year produces 22,050. A domestic airline flight produces 270 pounds of CO2 per passenger.

• In the same vein, this information comes from “Going Local on a Global Scale” by Kirsten Schwind, from the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of Backgrounder, a Food First newsletter. We are using only a small part of a much larger article:
“If Iowans bought just 10 percent more of their food from within the state, they could collectively save 7.9 million pounds of carbon dioxide emission a year. The Japanese environmental organization Daichi-o-Mamoru Kai (The Association to Preserve the Earth) found that if Japanese families consumed local food instead of imported food, the impact would be equivalent to reducing household energy use by 20 percent. [A] surprising amount of trade is duplicative and ecologically wasteful. For example, Heinz ketchup eaten in California is made with California-grown tomatoes that have been shipped to Canada for processing and returned in bottles. In one year the port of New York City exported $431,000 worth of California almonds to Italy, and imported $397,000 worth of Italian almonds to the United States.”

• An article that came to us by way of the Internet stated that in July the USDA declared all of Illinois except for one county a disaster area because of loss of corn crops due to “extreme” drought. Rainfall from March through June was about half the normal level. The governor of Illinois said that “more than 117,000 farmers have reported production losses.”

• Also from the Internet comes an interview with James Howard Kunstler, author of Long Day’s Journey Into Night (about the effects of Peak Oil). The interviewer is Amanda Griscom Little. We present here just two sections of a much longer interview, which can be accessed at
“Ever since the end of World War II, we’ve embarked on this project to build ourselves a drive-in utopia—an economy based on suburban land development, eight-lane freeways lined with fry pits and hamburger shacks and a national big-box chain retail system. It has flourished because of two things: extraordinarily cheap energy and reliable supplies of it, and relative world peace. That has enabled big-box stores to develop 12,000-mile manufacturing and supply chains with the cheap labor overseas. Wal-Mart can move 4,000 TV sets from China to Wilkinsburg, Penn., and keep this tremendous stream of products going around the country with truckers who operate their warehouses on wheels. The system works only because it’s cheap to transport stuff.”

In answer to “If technology can’t dig us out of this problem, what will?” Kunstler answers: “The things that will help us the most will be finding a new scale of living and a new way to rebuild local, cohesive communities and cottage industries around them. We will need a new infrastructure for daily life, a new place for the human spirit to dwell and rest in for a while.”

• An article in the May/June 2005 issue of School Pesticide Monitor says that outside of a hospital setting, the use of anti-bacterial soaps is not necessary and may even be damaging. Triclosan is the common ingredient in these products and has been found to be linked to dioxins. “Researchers who added triclosan to river water and exposed it to ultraviolet light found that a significant portion of the triclosan was converted to dioxins, raising fears that sunlight could transform triclosan to dioxins naturally. Another serious health threat stems from interactions between triclosan and tap water. [Dishwashing soaps can contain triclosan.] A new study finds that triclosan reacts with chlorine molecules in tap water to form chlorinated dioxins, which are highly toxic forms of dioxin.” “The same study also found that the combination of tap water and triclosan produces significant quantities of chloroform, which is a probable human carcinogen. Production of chloroform and dioxins may also be a problem in pools, where there are high levels of chlorine that can react to triclosan residues on people’s skin.” The article mentions that overuse of triclosan can also lead to increased allergies and asthma and “may produce the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.” A Girl Scout science project in Minnesota “found that while anti-bacterial soap kills 99.6% of germs, regular soap kills 99.4% of germs.”

• From the May/June 2005 issue of World Watch:

  • The retail price of bread made from one bushel of wheat in Canada, 1975: $30
  • Farmers’ price for one bushel of wheat in Saskatoon, Canada, 1975: $3
  • Retail price of bread made from one bushel of wheat, 1999: $90
  • Farmers’ price for one bushel of wheat, Saskatoon, Canada, 1999: $3



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