Plants Fart?

I tend to be a bit of an environmentalist (conservationist, really), but I have my limits. For instance, I’m not ready to conclude that global warming is a) a unique phenomenon separate from cyclical climate changes, and b) if it is, that human activity is mostly to blame for it. I have an open mind about global warming, and a big reason is my scientific education. I can’t look at the data (especially since it’s way out of my field of expertise) and confidently state points a and b. Mankind simply hasn’t been keeping climate records long enough for us to be certain that we’re ruining the planet. I should point out, though, that it’s better to be safe than sorry. There’s nothing wrong with being responsible stewards. Also, based on the evidence, I cannot conclusively dismiss not-a or not-b.

Now, having made my position clear (I hope), check this article out. Apparently, unbeknownst to scientists until recently, plants emit methane. In fact, they seem to emit quite a bit; current estimates range from 10 to 30 percent of the yearly global methane budget (between 62 and 236 Teragrams). For a breakdown of the budget (that doesn’t include the new findings, of course), go here. If I’ve calculated correctly, humans account for about 120 Tg CH4 per year. IOW, plants might be just as bad as humanity. Worse yet, planting trees to absorb nasty gases might be backfiring if trees and other plants are putting out that much methane. It’ll be very interesting to see if these results stand up to scrutiny, and if they do, how rabid "Hug a tree" lefties and "Earth first; we’ll stripmine the other planets later" righties will spin them.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

10 thoughts on “Plants Fart?

  1. Steve Nicoloso

    It doesn’t seem surprising (as a non-biologist) that plants produce methane, which is of course a “fossil fuel” and the primary ingredient of natural gas. But I’ve been under the impression that CO2 was by far the most culpable “greenhouse” gas. If that’s true, then it seems that an increase in methane might (again, non-biologist typing) be more than compensated by a large plant’s ability to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. The article doesn’t say whether or not this might be true. To complicate matters, it is AFAIK still an open scientific question about how much additional CO2 newly planted forests might remove.

    Safest bet: live lightly on the land (which, of course, we’re not doing).

  2. Rob

    The Earth’s ecosystem works like a buffer. CO2 and methane were produced for years before human technology increased greenhouse gasses. The system was able to handle the natural CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases. It was even able to handle some of the human greenhouse gasses. But like any buffer system, it can be pushed past it’s ability to buffer. When that happens, the system starts to decompensate and greater changes can occur.

    Is it the human-caused greenhouse gasses or the plant-caused greenhouse gasses that cause global warming? It’s both, but we are responsible for the gasses that pushed the system past the buffering capacity. It’s like a patient with asthma that has his mouth taped in a robbery. The asthma may cause the patient to be unable to breathe sufficiently through the nose — both it and the tape caused the death. No one would argue the robber is not responsible for the murder. Ok, so the perp’s lawyer tried, but the jury didn’t buy it.

    This information on methane will determine strategies for controlling greenhouse gasses. There may not be simple answers to this problem like “plant more forests.”

  3. Steve Nicoloso

    Jerry, that may very well be true, but if a mature tree (let’s say… and this is quite simplistic of course) releases X kg of CH4 per year but absorbs 20X kg of C02, then the tree may still prove a net benefit.

    Good points Rob.

  4. Steve Nicoloso

    Ha! Well I just mosied my lazy arse over to Wikipedia wherein we find

    Methane’s effect as a greenhouse gas is twenty times greater than carbon dioxide.

    So my above thought experiment with methane and C02 was a wash. Let’s say that tree absorbs 40 times more C02 than it exhales CH4.

    Carry on.

  5. Rob


    The balance may be more difficult to work out than that. I recently read another article that seemed to indicate that what kind of forests were planted and where they were planted made a big difference in the net effect — this may have been the methane article.

    When you read as many science sources as I do, you get this weird “deja vu” when something hits the mainstream media.

    I don’t honestly believe Kyoto or planting forests or dumping iron in the ocean will be enough. The Earth is big — by the time we started noticing a problem, it had a lot of inertia behind it.

    Kyoto and other stopgap measures will delay the problem slightly, buying us enough time for a technological fix. Either that or we just live with a severe amount of damage to the Earth that will drastically affect humans.

    Unfortunately, it will mostly affect the poor, which is why there’s as little concern as there is.

    The technological fix will have to be either something on the order of nuclear power plants that suck carbon out of the air and bury it in the ground (or make things, actually — picture cheap artificial diamond house construction and furniture) or gengineered plants that sequester carbon at high rates. Again, how about plants that grow cheap diamonds?

    I suppose a sun umbrella in space might work. There’s a trick where you can balance a solar sail between the Earth and the Sun. It’s not in a traditional orbit — the thrust of the solar sail allows the sail to remain stationary in a place no orbit would permit. Blocking sun over the polar caps and intermittently over the rest of the earth might not cause too much damage to the ecosystem. The resulting space program would be absolutely wonderful, but I’m not sure that we’d have that level of technology soon enough.

    Then again, of 2020 really is a critical point, we might just move the Earth away from the sun enough to restore the climate balance.

    This is actually a problem: do you spend money implimenting Kyoto-like protocols and attempting current fixes, or do you spend the money on research to fix the problem more effectively? On an economic basis, it’s a no-brainer: spend the money on research. Yes, you have to fix more when you come up with the solution, but it will be far cheaper and more effective. Long-term, more lives will be saved and less damage done.

    The problem with that solution is that, as Niven pointed out, humans are cowards at the core. If we don’t spend the money on Kyoto-type solutions, we won’t spend any money on research directed at the problem. The only way to inspire the research is to create an economic incentive to solve the problem.

  6. Steve Nicoloso

    Rob, you’re confidence (or at least hopefulness) in the ability of science and technology to alleviate this problem is I think rather ironically misplaced, since science & technology have been the very problem from the start. Or rather that the increasingly unbridled (and unbridle-able) power that modern technologies have given fallen (and as you say cowardly) men are the very source of most of the world’s ills, from exploiting native inhabitants of the Western and Southern hemispheres and the lands underneath them 4-500 years ago, to designer lifeforms, designer noses, and designer babies. I say instead live lightly on the land… and pray for (and work for) conversion of souls and for the preservation of local communities. And if science should in the meantime happen to give us something useful for good and not harm, great! But I’m not holding my breath.


  7. Jerry Nora

    “modern technologies have given fallen (and as you say cowardly) men are the very source of most of the world’s ills, from exploiting native inhabitants of the Western and Southern hemispheres and the lands underneath them 4-500 years ago”

    Steve, it doesn’t take modern technology to enslave populations, as the Babylonians or Romans could tell you. I don’t deny that technology has caused problems, but you address the relevant point later on with the bit about fallen humanity. I prefer to keep the focus on that.

    Heck, goats and pigs have arguably done more to *directly* damage ecosystems than fossils fuels (and not just the livestock that Westerners carted around–Polynesians made big impacts on the islands they colonized; Easter Island wasn’t always as bleak as it is!).

  8. Steve Nicoloso

    Rob, I stand corrected.

    Jerry, I’m not arguing that everything was all so hunky-dory prior to (take your pick) the Age of the Conquistadores, or the Age of the Industrial Revolution, or the Age of Eugenics & Genetic Manipulation, but merely that each incremental leap permits fallen man to do more damage either to his fellow man or the environment (or both) than the previous leap.

    Sure Western Europe cut down and burned up all (okay, most) its trees centuries ago. This perhaps represented a spending of stored fuel at a rate 2-10 times the rate at which such could reasonably be expected to be renewed. But with fossil fuels we’re spending them at a rate that is at least 1,000,000 times faster than they can be renewed. So advancing technology (burning gasoline vis-a-vis burning a log) really amounts to accelerated exploitation. Such exploitation has come to be equated in the past 200 years or so with (the less insidious term) “wealth”… and why there will be no political solution: viz., everybody thinks that they earned their wealth… Well they did, in a manner of speaking, but it was always at “somebody” else’s expense.

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