November 5th, 2007

Ann Vole

Nitrous oxide is no laughing mater

Nitrous oxide is no laughing mater

(quote)

The Kyoto Protocol covers six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Of these six gases, three are of primary concern because they are closely associated to human activities.

  • Carbon dioxide is the main contributor to climate change, especially through the burning of fossil fuels.
  • Methane is produced naturally when vegetation is burned, digested or rotted without the presence of oxygen. Large amounts of methane are released by cattle farming, waste dumps, rice farming and the production of oil and gas.
  • Nitrous oxide, released by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels, has a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide.

so I had to look up "Nitrous oxide" and found out it is laughing gas!

(quote)

The gas is approved for use as a food additive (also known as E942), specifically as an aerosol spray propellant. Its most common uses in this context are in aerosol whipped cream canisters, cooking sprays, and as an inert gas used to displace bacteria-inducing oxygen when filling packages of potato chips and other similar snack foods.
...
Agriculture is the main source of human-produced nitrous oxide: cultivating soil, the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and animal waste handling can all stimulate naturally occurring bacteria to produce more nitrous oxide. The livestock sector (primarily cows, chickens, and pigs) produces 65% of human-related nitrous oxide. Industrial sources make up only about 20% of all anthropogenic sources

Note that nitrous oxide is 310 times as powerful as carbon dioxide to heat the planet... no more aerosol foods for me and I am going to have to see what snacks are packaged in the stuff. I think the bacteria that makes it only does so when there is no oxygen present so would only be formed in sludge slurries found in feed lots instead of animal droppings in fields from free-range animals.

If you look at their numbers, 65% from animal waste and 20% from industrial processes, that leaves 15% left as the maximum amount that can come from "use of nitrogen fertilizers" and "cultivating soil". The newest trend in North American farming is "zero-till" farming where the soil is disturbed as little as possible and so the preferred fertilizer is ammonia pumped directly in the soil with the seed (no nitrogen fertilizer). The zero-till seeder puts the seed underground with a thin projection into the soil which tries to cause minimal disturbance to the soil to minimize drag on the tractor (fuel savings) and moisture loss on the soil (and in the case of nitrogen oxide production, it is also reduced with minimal disturbance). The reason I am telling you this is because of what I perceive as false advertising where organic foods are pushed as reducing greenhouse gases... zero till farming can only control weeds using pesticides so it cannot be used for organic farming so organic farming may be bad for the greenhouse gas situation compared to zero-till.