Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Carbon Sequestration

Please allow me to get up in your grill and debunk one of the favored shibboleths of the environmentalist or "Green" movement. In a recent editorial in the "Oregonian" on the subject of sustainability and City government the author stated "As we all learned in kindergarten, planting trees creates oxygen, captures carbon, and eases global warming".

Let me state at the outset that even if the above statement were true it is highly unlikely that I would have learned it in kindergarten (1952-1953). I am quite sure that I did not learn that trees produce oxygen and store carbon at the knee of Mrs. Gross my kindergarten teacher in Reno, Nevada. More importantly it must be noted that the simple rules of biology, chemistry, and mathematics render the whole idea of "carbon sequestration" to the to the arena of "not so much". Here's why:

Carbon: The subject here is biomass, not just trees. We are talking about all green plants. It is true that the process of photosynthesis results in the intake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and it's subsequent conversion to carbon based cells making up leaves, stems, twigs, reproductive bits, etc.

Oxygen: It is also true that the above mentioned photosynthetic process results in the release of oxygen as the CO2 is converted in the process. OK, carbon in, oxygen out... So far so good.

Death: If no biomass ever died our atmosphere would quickly become so oxygen rich that the first spark would ignite all organic material on the planet in a really big firestorm. Fortunately plants (also unfortunately, humans) die. In fact plants are constantly shedding vast amounts of dead material in the form of leaves, needles stems, and of course overall death of the organism. So lets, look again at the flow of oxygen and carbon.

When plant material dies, or is burned the result is the same - Oxidization. That is when a leaf falls to the earth it is gradually consumed by microorganisms which consume the plant material. In the digestive process the process of metabolic respiration takes place converting the food to energy. This results in the consumption of atmospheric oxygen, and the release of our old friend carbon dioxide. In other words, all the carbon sequestered by living plants is eventually returned to the atmosphere either by respiration or fire. All of the oxygen originally released is consumed either by metabolic respiration or fire.

Ah, but what about wood, the alert reader may ask. It is true that wood in service (lumber in your house, furniture, etc.) sequesters carbon for the duration of its existence as wood. Two factors limit the importance of wood as a reservoir of carbon. Firstly if you look at the life cycle of a tree, you will observe that the total production of disposable biomass (leaves, fruit, twigs, etc.) dwarfs the volume of wood in the bole (trunk) of the tree. Hence most of the biomass of trees returns its carbon to the atmosphere on an annual basis. Secondly, when said wood rots, is eaten by termites, or burns, our old friend oxidization returns its carbon back to the atmosphere as CO2. This brings up an interesting question. If all the Oxygen delivered up to the atmosphere is eventually traded for CO2 upon the metabolism or burning of biomass, what then accounts for the free Oxygen in the atmosphere? I believe I have an answer for this question but will leave it up to you to posit your own answers in the comments section to follow.

Please do not assume from my clinical dissection of carbon sequestration that I do not value the "green" world. Deforestation of large tracts of land via slash and burn agriculture, reckless harvesting, wildfire etc. certainly has detrimental environmental consequences. In addition to the production of oxygen via photosynthesis, trees are prodigious movers of water. The process of transpiration of water provides the majority of water feeding the tropical storms of the mid latitudes. This is one of the reasons that massive deforestation leads to desertification. Forests and grasslands protect, even create, watersheds. But, please do not buy into the carbon sequestration, carbon offset, carbon management politics being heaped upon us by the biologically illiterate activists. If your goal is to put carbon "in jail" via planting of trees, please consider that the net effect of these efforts will be at best negligible. There are a lot better reasons to plant trees than this.

In conclusion. I am haunted by the fact that I must be wrong about all this. How else could our local Land Rover dealer in good faith make the following offer. Upon purchase of a gas swilling carbon emitting Land Rover automobile the dealer will donate sufficient funds to an environmental activist group who will in turn plant sufficient trees to offset the production of carbon by your car for 50 years! Please fair reader tell me how this is not pure balderdash, hokum, or at least a bonehead error on the part of the Land Rover company. Surely, we can just plant a few trees and save the climate, the planet, and relieve us of this unrelenting guilt...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas in LA

This year we decided to decamp from Portland to LA for the holidays. Snowpocalypse was approaching and we wanted to spend a week with our son and his girlfriend in LA. We left Portland just as the snow was beginning to fall in earnest. As it turns out we were lucky to get out when we did as said Snowpocalypse was the most snow since 1940 or 1840 or something.

The "interesting" part of our trip was that we decided to let my son establish the terms of our stay and mode of transportation...


First off, it was established that we would only use public transportation during our stay in LA. You heard me, Public Transportation. We arrived at LAX and picked up a bus called the Fly Away to Union Central Station in downtown LA. Price was $4.00. It was quite comfortable riding along in the bus. I didn't have to drive on the LA freeway! I did not have to find a parking place! I did however, have to spend seemingly endless hours waiting on the curb with the other 3rd world residents of LA waiting for buses, trains, subways etc. Compared to driving a car getting around was significantly less stressful (for the most part) and Cheap!

Here's 10 good things about mass transit in LA:
1. Low prices.
2. Free lessons in Spanish, Korean, and other less identifiable languages.
3. Free fitness program walking for bus stops, subway stations and train stations.
4. Unlike driving, it is not necessary to look in the direction of travel.
5. Including buses, subways, trains and feet you can travel to most all parts of the city.
6. You actually get to meet people outside of your immediate cohort (family in my case).
7. As for the subways and trains, riders are free from traffic jams.
8. No parking required.
9. Pronounced feeling of "green" superiority.
10. It is perfectly OK to have a few beers and ride (as opposed to drive).


Here's 10 less attractive things we encountered on mass transit:
1. Waiting. God, I missed my car...
2. Waiting. Actually the weather was rather cold.
3. Crazy people. On a number of occasions I thought they had cell phones but no, they were talking, yelling, sometimes screaming at people apparently only visible to them. I have never seen so many people who have lost touch. LA is fricking crazy...
4. The knowledge that probably half the people on the Metro are ripping off their fellow riders by not purchasing tickets. Apparently the city of LA is on the "Honor System".
5. The combination of the horrific condition of LA city streets and the apparent installation of shock "enhancers" in lieu of the more traditional shock abosorbers on the Metro buses results in a condition I will refer to as "instant hemmoroids". A trip through the heart of Beverly Hills on the renowned Wilshire Blvd. resulted in posible kidney damage. We were however able to meet the folks who actually work in Beverly Hills.
6. Native Los Angelenos look at you funny when you admit that you are riding Mass Transit to the exclusion of driving a car.
7. There is a significant loss of spontaneity when you are not at the wheel.
8. Exposure, apparently the City of LA has recently recommended that all citizens by vacinated against hepatitus A. Makes you not want to touch Mass Transit surfaces...
9. General grotty feeling.
10. Huge feeling of disappointment when, train, bus, subway pulls out just as you arrive.

So, fair reader, where do we stand? LA by bus and train, or get on the freeways with everyone else. As for myself, and I can safely say the rest of my family (wife, daughter, son, son's girlfriend) our vacation in LA without a car was on balance a great experience! I would do it again!

My First Flourish

At last I have succumbed to the hubris of publishing my thoughts and views of life to those who are doubtless tingling with anticipation. Future blogs will include numerous lists of things important or more likely not, the occasional rant, and hopefully a bit of what it's like seeing the world through Dean's cortex. I hope that you enjoy it or are at least challenged enough to comment from time to time.