Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do fat geese add to our carbon burden?

Happy New Year! The first episode of Green Machine for 2009 deals with the most common New Year’s resolution, that of losing weight. Gras is the French word for fat so it is fitting we honor Gras as the G word of the week now that we have all resolved to lose some weight. I have previously written that one requires an extra mile of blood vessels for each pound of fat cells in our bodies. Losing weight is also good for improving our fuel efficiency, as our vehicles require less power to move lighter bodies.

I read the grossest news clip on Boxing Day. Craig Alan Bittner, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills (Heavily Bills that is) was using the fat he liposuctioned from patients to produce bio-diesel for his girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator SUV. This is illegal in California as we do have laws governing the disposal of human medical waste. Bittner boasted on his website that he invented “lipodiesel”. It is quite amazing that Bittner believed his green efforts advertised on his web site would promote business rather than incurring the long and fat arm of the law.

Another common New Year’s resolution is to quit smoking. As tobacco consumption has dropped so have the number of farms cultivating tobacco in the USA. The US Department of Agriculture reports that in 1954, 512,000 farms cultivated tobacco, in 2002 only 56,977 farms grew tobacco as their cash crop. In 1946 over two billion pounds of tobacco was grown in the USA. This had dropped to one billion pounds in 2002. An acre of land yields approximately one ton of tobacco per year, therefore the average size of farms has increased in the past fifty years as many small farmers simply gave up on growing tobacco. The US population has grown two and a half times since 1946, therefore on a per capita basis we are using about one fifth of the tobacco we used when smoking was a socially acceptable and an even encouraged pastime.
Kansas was the last of the states to end prohibition on smoking of tobacco back in 1927. The cost of a pack of twenty cigarettes was at parity with the cost of a gallon of gasoline for most of the twentieth century. Back in 1946 this cost was twenty cents. In the 1960s it was fifty cents. In the mid to 1980s the Feds, state, and local governments placed far heavier taxes on cigarettes because of the burden on healthcare costs that smoking was causing. If only these governments had the wisdom then to have taxed gasoline as heavily as cigarettes the Hummer would possibly have never seen the light of day. For a while in July 2008 the cost of a gallon of gasoline again reached parity with the cost of a pack of twenty cigarettes, but with the precipitous drop in oil prices gasoline is again far less expensive than a pack of cigarettes.

If wasting energy carries the same stigma as smoking, then the US will easily halve our energy consumption in the next twenty five years. I propose we have the position of “Engineering General Of The United States”. The Engineering General should be allowed to post in bold letters on any energy wasting vehicle: – “Warning The Engineering General has determined that operating this vehicle will cause damage to our collective health”. Did you all know we have an acting Surgeon General and his name is Rear Admiral Steven Galson MD? I hope that President Elect Obama appoints a full time rather than acting Surgeon General and that the post of Engineering General is soon created. Unfortunately the only general we have at present working on energy efficiency is General Motors, a half star general.

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