Thursday, January 29, 2009

Trash Talk

This week’s trip into the arcane world of Daniel P. Daniel is going to deal with a subject for which every man, woman and child on the planet holds some amount of responsibility. It is quite often smelly and gross. It usually isn’t brought up in polite conversation, and most people won’t touch it with their bare hands. No, it’s not your ex-wife. What we are going to explore this week is garbage…no, really it’s garbage…the subject is garbage…the content of the discussion isn’t garbage…I mean it is but…Oh, Jesus Christ! Trash! We’re going to be talking about trash. This is kind of an extension of our discussion from last week. It seems like many people don’t understand what happens to our discarded refuse once we decide to put it in the bin. How much junk do we create? Where does it go? What exactly are we throwing away?

Although the term “throw-away society” gets batted around a lot, trash is something that we take for granted in the U.S. It is one of the many processes that we are involved with every day, but it still has some sort of magical quality to it. We stop by the local White Castle on the way home from work and slug down 15 or 20 sliders in the car before dinner. Then we take the bag and chuck it in the bin with our worn-out copies of Butt Lust and Scat Fancy magazines. One day a week we unceremoniously stagger the bin out to the curb in our pre-coffee morning haze before we pile into the car and head off to work. When we get home the bin has been mysteriously emptied as though some fat and jolly sprite came by during the day, and with the wave of his hand made all the nastiness go away. There’s some truth to that statement if you consider the fat sprite drives a 25 ton garbage truck like a maniac, and his name is Hector. Anyway, our bins end up empty and ready for the next round of defilement.

In the U.S., according to the EPA, on average each person creates 4.6lbs worth of garbage every day. Seems like a lot. We’ll get back to that later. Contrary to popular belief, the per capita trash generation figures have been pretty stable over the past 20-30 years. The majority (33.9%) of our refuse is paper. The rest is made up of yard waste (12.9%), food scraps (12.4%), plastic (11.7%), metal (7.6%), rubber and textiles (7.3%), wood (5.5%), glass (5.3%) and miscellaneous filth like diapers, dead bodies and republican dogma making up the last 3.3%. 55% of what we pitch ends up in a landfill, 32.5% is sent to recycling or composting facilities, and the remainder is burned.

It seems to me that there is a lot of confusion about what the intent of putting trash in the landfill actually is. A landfill is also called a municipal solid waste (MSW) facility or a sanitary landfill. It’s called a sanitary landfill because the intent of the place to provide a place to safely store trash in such a way that it does not contaminate groundwater. They are storage facilities. A MSW facility is constructed by first excavating a huge area. Something like 70 acres is pretty average. Then a thick layer of clay is compacted, and on top of it plastic liner is laid down in order to prevent any liquids from getting into the groundwater. Then a mat is put on the liner to prevent the gravel which is put on next from tearing the plastic. The gravel is then covered with a drainage layer and soil. Only then can trash be piled on top of it all. All of these layers of protection serve only to allow any hazardous liquids like paint, cleaning products, and soy milk that leach out of the trash to be drained out of the landfill into storage areas where it can be safely contained and treated. The trash is then compacted into specific areas that contain only one day’s worth of garbage. These areas are usually around 16 yards square by 5 yards deep. Every day they are covered with 6 inches of soil in order to minimize exposure to air, rainwater and wildlife. When a landfill is full it is covered with another plastic tarp and a couple of feet of soil. Grasses and small shrubs are planted, and they are turned into parks, ski areas, and housing developments. All the while they are continually monitored for environmental hazards and continue to be monitored for many decades after being finally sealed. There are around 1700 MSW facilities in the U.S. down from over 8000 in the 1980’s.

There are a couple things that we should take away from this landfill operational info. First of all, a landfill is not a dump. I think when you mention a landfill most people picture a huge open dump that smells like the bathroom in your college rugby house and has swarms of seagulls and foreign kids picking through the litter. That’s obviously not the case. Second, garbage cannot biodegrade and isn’t intended to biodegrade in a landfill. In order for the natural process of biodegradation to occur the bacteria need air, moisture and some sunlight. None of these are available in a MSW facility. In fact this is the reason why methane is produced by landfills. Rather than breaking down the trash aerobically and producing only CO2 the bacteria don’t get enough oxygen and begin anaerobic processes that make both methane and CO2. The methane in landfills can be used for some local power generation, but since it is an abundant resource in the U.S. it does not make fiscal sense to compress it and ship it off-site, so most landfills just have a flare to burn it.

On the subject of the breakdown of material in a landfill, Dr. William Rathje from the University of Arizona started a research project aptly named “The Garbage Project”. His team has been archaeologically excavating landfills for several years in order to determine how our consumption of resources changes over time, among other things. One byproduct of this study is that he has found that our trash is remarkably well-preserved. He routinely finds forty-year-old newspapers that are as good as new and food waste such as heads of lettuce, carrots and ears of corn that are unchanged after decades in the fill. This just underscores the fact that what most people think is happening to our trash is not what actually occurs in reality.

O.K., back to the numbers we threw out a minute ago. If every person in the U.S. creates 4.6lbs of trash every day how much does that add up to? Surely we’re going to run out of space soon, and we’ll all be buried in piles of festering garbage if we keep this up. Right? Not so fast. We generate about 255 million tons of trash per year – about 7/8 of a ton per person. That amount of trash would fill a volume of around 2.5 billion ft3. That’s roughly a one mile square and 89ft deep – about a country block for the entire U.S. production for a year. So over 100 years we would only cover an area that’s ten miles square. Hmmm…Why all the fuss over landfill space? It’s mostly stigma, propaganda and the NIMBY folks. I mean nobody wants to live next to a 10 mile landfill, but we can stick that sucker in the middle of Wyoming where nobody lives anyway. Problem solved. Just send checks payable to The Daniel P. Daniel Beer Fund, please. Oh, yeah, let’s not forget that these numbers are calculated before recycling and incineration. Slash them roughly in half, and that will put us in the ballpark. Makes you wonder why we bother recycling in the first place. Should we just throw everything out willy-nilly? Of course not. We should make every attempt to reduce our trash load and reuse whatever we can in order to decrease our overall energy and resource consumption. Recycle? I’m not so sure, but we can talk about that another time.

So where does this leave us? I mean besides bored and pissed that you’re still reading. It would seem that our trash is a lot cleaner than we give it credit for, and even though we do generate a lot of waste we are not going to have to tunnel through garbage in order to get our kids to school in the morning. Our trash literally has no value to us (which is why we discard it), and, as such, many people never give it a second thought. They are happy to believe in an imaginary distopia where we have consumed all of our natural resources and have covered ourselves in our own filth. It is a tactic that has been played expertly by the fear mongers among us in order to keep us in the dark and milk some extra money from us. The fact of the matter is that we must generate trash in order to live our lives, and we have come up with a system for disposal of that refuse that has minimal impact to the environment.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Trees or Whales?

Earlier this week I needed to run into a local grocery store to pick up some food for the little one. It was supposed to be a quick pop-in to grab a couple of things, but once I was there I grabbed a bunch of junk that I have been putting off. So, inevitably, I ended up with a cart full of pantry items. This is easy to do at the Vitamin Cottage – all organic produce, free range buffalo, sustainable personal care items – you know, some good hippy, earth-saving, tree-hugging shit. Anyway, at the checkout line I was waiting for the ubiquitous question that everyone always gets asked, “Didn’t I see your picture in the post office?” Alright, that’s not the one I was initially thinking of, but I do tend to get asked that a lot. Anyway, the real poser that is so oft heard at the checkout line is of course, “Paper or plastic?” However, this time I wasn’t even given the choice. The dred-bearing baggist just started happily loading my items into a paper bag. Naturally, I asked, “Why are you guys going with paper now?” His reply was, “We’re leaning away from plastic bags because they are like soooo bad for the environment.” I immediately thought, The deodorant is just one isle over. Would you like me to instruct you on its proper use? Then I thought, Really? Is paper better than plastic? We’ll see about that, Hippy.

First of all, let’s get our terminology straight. These are grocery bags NOT grocery sacks. Sack is such a crappy word that I here-to-fore ban it from our discussion. Besides, there’s something gross about putting your food in a sack. Anyway, there is a wealth of information on this bag subject available on the web, but it seems like the prevailing political wisdom is going in the direction of paper. Score one for the pulp lobbyists. Many large cities, including San Francisco, have put in place laws restricting plastic bag use, and some countries have banned them altogether. Why? I don’t know, but we’ll find out together, won’t we? Turns out that the main reason (besides a perceived backlash against the oil industry) is that plastic bags are a litter problem especially along the coasts where marine wildlife gobble them down since they look like jellyfish in the water. This seems like more of a trash containment issue rather than an environmental issue to me. Let’s do a quick side-by-side comparison of the two types of single-use bags that are most-often used based on their overall environmental impact and energy consumption from cradle to grave.

Plastic bags are made out of polyethylene which can be produced from a byproduct of the oil refining process, as most plastics are. It can also be made from natural gas which we have an abundance of in the U.S., but it is still a non-renewable resource. Most of the grocery bags used in the U.S. are plastic. This adds up to about 100 billion bags per year in the U.S. alone or about 1500 per household – 4 per day. That seems like a lot to me, but I don’t tend to use them very often. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to make that equivalent number of bags. This is enough bags (when compressed) to pack an indoor football stadium full to the roof. They would wrap around the world 1625 times. Only about 3-5% of the bags we use get recycled, but it’s a bad idea anyway since it costs around $4000 to recycle 1 ton of plastic bags which will only return ~$30 worth of material to the market. You do the math on that one. Don’t get me started on recycling. It takes ~.5MJ of energy to produce one plastic bag. Also, plastics do not biodegrade. They can photodegrade over time (like 1000 years) if exposed to enough sunlight. I think it’s interesting if you look at plastic’s environmental persistence this way – every piece of plastic that has ever been produced (and hasn’t been burned or recycled) still exists…somewhere.

So far it’s not looking good for our plastic selection, so now let’s take a look at paper. We use about 10 billion paper bags in the U.S. annually. It takes 14 million trees to feed that beast alone. That’s 700,000 tons of paper bags – roughly the same mass as 10,000 average American houses. Once the trees are cut down, they are essentially ground up, boiled in sulfuric acid, washed and bleached, then pressed and rolled. This is hugely energy and chemically intensive. The process is a pollution nightmare, and we end up with a global warming double whammy. The pulp plants consume energy and produce carbon dioxide, and trees that sequester the CO2 are cut down to make the product. The recycling process is just as bad. It takes about 2.6MJ of energy to produce one paper bag. That’s enough energy to run your washing machine for two days straight.

Where does that leave us in our side-by-side comparison? Well, it takes almost five times more energy to produce paper bags than it takes to produce plastic. The production of paper bags creates 70% more air pollution, and 50 TIMES more water pollution than plastic. Paper bags take up about five times more space in a landfill. It takes 98% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic versus a pound of paper, and it takes nearly twice as much fossil fuel to make, deliver, and distribute paper. It takes one gallon of water to make a single paper bag, whereas it only takes 10 tablespoons to make a plastic bag. As far as the whole issue of paper being biodegradable goes, that dog doesn’t hunt, either. Landfills are not designed to allow garbage to biodegrade. Quite the opposite is true, actually. Landfills are a huge, sealed storage drum where over 95% of the trash is covered by dirt so air and sunlight can’t get to it which makes biodegradability a non-issue. I may write more about landfills later. While we’re on the topic, “biodegradable” plastic bags are essentially 2 to 3 times worse in every category than regular polyethylene bags. Besides, even the biodegradable plastic bags don’t actually biodegrade. They just basically fall apart into smaller plastic pieces over 50-100 years which is plenty long for a dumb-ass whale to mistake one for dinner.

So it looks like the cheapest solution is the winner here. The villain is the hero. Any decision to ban plastic bags in favor of single-use bags made from alternative materials will be environmentally counterproductive and wasteful on every front. The litter issue will always be there because people are slobs, and garbage companies are mostly apathetic. If we were able to increase recycling and reuse rates of plastic bags (and decrease cost of the recycling process) and increase the efficiency of the pimply-faced baggers at the checkout counter so they can fit more into one bag, the environmental impacts of these ubiquitous bags would be even further reduced. It would seem that the initial knee-jerk reaction against those poor little bags is unfounded in logic (it may be somehow founded in public opinion which I don’t understand and is certainly not logical). Personally, I have a bunch of the reusable canvas bags that are possibly the best solution, and when I only have a couple of items I request no bag at all. So, next time you are asked the question, “Paper or plastic?” reply, “Plastic, of course! It is much better for the environment.” Then take a look at their faces, and tell them Daniel P. sent you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The 2008 Darwin Award Winners

This week’s topic may be controversial to those of you that adhere to the belief that we were conjured out of a pile of dirt in the Garden of Eden. It deals directly with the very basic concept of survival of the fittest. This idea, which was introduced by Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species published in 1859 and made part of the lexicon by Herbert Spencer in his book Principles of Biology published five years later, is actually a poor description of how natural selection or evolution works in natural populations. Natural selection is the process by which certain desirable traits are selected for in a population so that there will be a survival advantage to the next generation. For example, moths that look like tree bark are less likely to be scarfed up by birds than moths that have blinking “Eat at Joe’s” signs on their asses. The ones that survive mate and pass the tree-bark-camo traits on to the next generation. Pretty simple idea; however, as I said, the term survival of the fittest is not a good descriptor for the process. The term should most likely be “survival of the fit enough” or more accurately “destruction of the weak.” “Destruction of the weak” has a slightly negative slant so “survival of the fittest” has remained in vogue since it seems more positive. Not surprisingly, I like the former term. It sounds more final, more resolute. Sounds like you need to get your crap in a pile or you’re going to be on your way out, Bub. Survival of the fittest seems soft, almost like natural selection is a friendly Parcheesi game.

Anyway, I’ve managed to digress from what the topic of this week actually is – The 2008 Darwin Award Winners. For the uninitiated in the audience the Darwin Awards have been chronicling the most idiotic instances of self-extraction from the gene pool for many years now and have been a source of countless hours of laughter and distraction for me, personally. In order to qualify for an award a person must successfully remove themselves from the reproductive race by either death or some other means (I’ll leave that to your imagination) in such an idiotic way that we should be glad that they cannot pass on their genetic material to the next unwitting generation. Becoming a priest on its own doesn’t count (unless they are castrated, which I would argue for), but as you’ll see in the list below there are other ways God’s spouses can enter the contest. I can’t qualify for the list since (although I may come to an early demise through my own idiotic decision-making) I have already passed on my flawed genetic material to my children. Suckers! Below are the top five Darwin Award Winners as voted on by viewers at

  1. (20 April 2008, Atlantic Ocean, Brazil) Adelir Antonio de Carli, 41, (a Catholic preist) was attempting to set the world record for clustered balloon flight to publicize his plan to build a spiritual rest stop for truckers. The priest took numerous safety precautions including wearing a survival suit, selecting a buoyant chair (in case of a water landing), and packing a satellite phone and a GPS. However, the intrepid balloonist made a fatal mistake. He did not know how to use the GPS. The winds changed, and he was blown toward open sea. He could have parachuted to safety while over land, but he poorly chose not to. When the voyager was perilously lost at sea, he prudently phoned for help. But rescuers were unable to reach him since he could not use his GPS! Without the GPS, the priest let God be his guide, and God guided him straight to heaven. Bits of balloons began appearing on mountains and beaches. Ultimately the priest's body surfaced, confirming that he had in fact won a spot on the list.
  2. (July 16, 2008, Italy) Gerhard Adolf Zeitler Plattner, 68, was stopped at a traffic light with a railroad crossing in his beloved Porsche Cayenne. The man did not let the line of cars ahead of him move forward far enough before he crossed the railroad. The safety bars came down, leaving the Porsche trapped on the rails. When he realized he was stuck the man jumped from the car and started to run -- toward the oncoming train, waving his arms in an attempt to save his car! The attempt was successful. The car received less damage than its owner. He was hit hard enough to land 30 meters away, and attempts to revive him were (thankfully) unsuccessful.
  3. Three military men volunteered to help one of their grandmothers out by removing a tree from her property. To keep the 50-foot tree from crushing the house, the privates reasoned that they would tie a rope to the top of the tree and pull the rope away from the house as the tree was cut. The privates climbed a nearby tree, wound a rope through its upper branches, and threw the rope to a private in the target tree. He tied the rope around the trunk. By this device, they could pull the rope from the ground. Two privates were situated on the ground, each straining to pull the tree away from Grandmother's house. The third private revved his chainsaw and started to cut. Lo and behold, the tree actually fell away from Grandmother's house! However...The rope-pulling privates had wrapped the rope around their waists, not considering that the falling pine weighed several tons. As the pine tree fell, both privates were ripped off their feet and smashed through the branches of the other pine tree. At the height of their acceleration, they broke through the top branches of the tree, and were briefly airborne before being jerked toward the earth when the fallen tree hit the ground. The privates entered into Darwin history, either on the way up through the branches or on the way down to the cold, hard ground.
  4. The telephone company was replacing above-ground telephone lines with buried lines. In one sparsely populated farming area, if lines crossed a country road they would dig a trench halfway across, so rural traffic could continue through. Then they would fill in the trench, and dig a trench on the other side. One morning, a local farmer called the sheriff to report a smashed-up pickup. Inside were two ranch hands that were last seen the previous night, heading home after last call. On their way to the bars, the men had decided to play a prank. They stopped their pickup, and moved the flashing warning signs from the trenched side to the good side of the country road. Crime scene analysis later confirmed that they were the culprits who moved the flashing stands. Investigations also revealed that at the time of the accident, they were driving at an excessive speed with an impressive amount of alcohol in their systems. No crime scene analysis is capable of determining whether the ranch hands forgot their prank, or chose to see what would happen if they hit that trench at a high rate of speed in the middle of the night. Welcome to the list.
  5. (2 February 2008, Italy) David, 46, was sliding down an Italian ski slope one night, riding on padding that he had removed from the safety barriers at the bottom of the run. It did not occur to him that it might be dangerous to sled down the same slope from which he had stolen the protective padding. The man careened straight into the bare barriers at the bottom of the slope. David died from head and chest injuries inflicted by the unpadded metal. Two of his friends survived with medical attention. Another Darwin Award candidate is still missing after he wandered away "bloodied and distressed."

There you have it. The Top Five Childless Dead Idiots of 2008. R.I.P. Be sure to check the website. There are some real doozies on the list.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ten Things Bush Got Right...No seriously...

This week I thought that I’d really challenge myself. In just over nine days we will have a new President of the United States of America, and hopefully our long national nightmare will be over. Inevitably, when one person leaves office there will be numerous discussions about what his or her legacy will be. So I started to think about Gee Dub and his legacy, and in between my bouts of uncontrollable laughter and blind rage I started thinking to myself, “I wonder how far I can stick a Q-tip in my ear before I do permanent damage?” Then I thought, “Is there anything that this guy (and his administration) got right?” I mean, since the Evil Empire stole the election nearly nine years ago the nation has been suffering through a long list of embarrassing and downright horrible decisions that have affected the world adversely on an unprecedented scale. Taking account of all of the mistakes and negative outcomes that the administration has been a part of would be a monumental task, so I thought doing the inverse would be easier. I thought that I’d try to drop the negativity for a week and find ten things that the Bush administration did right. Little did I know how hard that would actually be. Just to let you in a little bit on my struggle, I started research for this article over a month ago. Do a web search for anything relating to Bush, and all you will find in the first 20 pages is a laundry list of failures, missed opportunities, and public outrage. However, after much effort on my part I was able to find ten things that were at least marginally positive that happened during the reign of the silliest and most inarticulate president of modern times…but that was only half of the battle. Now I had to write this article in a positive light. This second constraint was the one I found most difficult. I mean it’s just too easy to bag on GW. Even the BBC can’t keep from doing it. Seriously, I bet if you stand close enough to him you can hear the ocean.

Anyway, here is what I was able to come up with after all of my effort, self-censorship and tongue-biting – The Top Ten (read: the only ten) Things That the Bush Administration Got Right:

1. An Integrated White House. For all of his backwards hillbilly ideals and attitudes, President Bush will go down in history as the first president to ever hire someone hat isn’t Whitey to any of the top four positions of the executive branch. He appointed the first non-white attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, as well as both the first (Colin Powell) and second (Condoleezza Rice) non-white secretaries of state. Whew! One down, nine to go.

2. Pro-Environment?!? Believe it or not, (even though he has opened vast tracts of land to mining, logging and drilling, eased many environmental requirements and restrictions on corporations involved in those operations, refused to impose restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and engaged the nation in war for foreign oil) President Bush has protected 195,280 square miles of land and ocean by declaring them National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries. More than any other president in history.

3. Tax credit. The guy gave me $1500 that I didn’t have before, so that’s something. Right? Yeah, I know it’s stretching it, but this is harder than it looks.

4. Ban on racial profiling. Again, seemingly going against his public perception of being a good ole’ boy GW declared the first national ban on racial profiling. Then he promptly created the Department of Homeland Security and ordered them to round up every Muslim air passenger and send them to Gitmo. O.K. What are we on? Four? Jesus, I don’t know if I’m going to make it.

5. African AIDS Relief. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which President Bush created, and the leadership he provided are actually unprecedented in presidential politics. His support for funding, aid, and education in Africa and other parts of the developing world have made a positive impact on the HIV / AIDS struggle.

6. Public Political Interest. This administration’s ineptitude and overtly neoconservative push has served to engage many people that were previously either disenfranchised or apathetic about getting involved in politics or even expressing their right to vote. More people voted in the last election than ever before. More people are getting educated about their voting choices, and we will soon have the first black President of the United States as a direct result of this.

7. More on the Environment. During the Bush years, ethanol and wind energy production has quadrupled, and the nation’s solar energy capacity and biodiesel production has more than doubled. They ponied up about $18 billion (a pittance compared to the $120 billion per month that we dump on the war) to research alternative energy technologies and promote the hydrogen economy. We’re nearly there. My powers of self-restraint are fading…

8. Health Care. The number of uninsured children under the age of 18 actually declined by about a million during the Bush administration. The creation of new health savings accounts is a great step towards independence for individuals from asshole insurance companies.

9. Lowered Crime Rates. The crime rate has dropped by nearly 10% since 2000 to the lowest it has been in over thirty years. Also, repeated drug use by teens has dropped by about 25%. I’m not sure that Bush had anything to do with this directly, but I’m kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel here, people.

10. He gave me eight years of shameless complaining and laughter. During his administration we didn’t have to look too far to find someone to point fingers at when the shit hit the fan, did we? For most of the last decade I’ve felt like an extra wandering around on the set of Idiocracy. In hindsight, this should have been #1.

And there we have it. The ten-ish things that the Bush administration did right (with minimal negative comments from Daniel P.). It’s pretty sad that it was such a difficult task. George Walker Bush, 43rdUnited States, undoubtedly remains the most incompetent and mentally-challenged president we have ever had to endure as a nation…twice. The actions of the Bush administration have brought us international embarrassment that will likely take many years to undo. What will history see as his legacy? Will he even be remembered in 50 years? Only time will tell. Let’s just hope history doesn’t repeat itself…at least not while I’m still alive anyway.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Hydrogen Bombs Essay

I've thought long and hard about what I should throw out into the world for the first blog post of the year. I mean, this post needs to start off 2009 on the right foot - it needs to set the tone for the rest of the year ahead. Should it be something of great political import? Should it be a debunking piece about resolutions or predictions? Should it be a nostalgic montage about the past year? After much deliberation I finally realized none of those would do for The Missing Piece. I figure we've been together for a couple of months now so you're ready for whatever I have to throw at you. Well, here it is. I believe this next piece is exactly what the doctor ordered to ring in 2009 with a bang...The Hydrogen Bombs essay...

O.K. I can tell by the way you’re looking at me that you’re bored. ME TOO! It’s happened again. We’re bored. So of course like anyone else that’s bored I start thinking about what I can do to relieve my symptoms and help save the world. Naturally, like everyone else, this line of thinking leads to the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, a six-pack of Vaseline, a spatula, and a retarded midget named Lefty Shortpants with a hand-mixer. Just me?!? Well fine, how ‘bout something a little less interesting then, Killjoy?

How about some numbers? Numbers that affect every one of us in a very deep personal and meaningful way. No? O.K., then how ‘bout some random weirdness that falls out of my head? I thought so. Let’s see…We’ve done the cigarette polluters and organic milk. We’ve exposed the evil geniuses in the personal care industry and the less subtle lotto debacle. What should it be today? I’m thinking of something that is both unimaginably revolting and possibly the funniest thing on the planet. It’s been with us since our ancestors climbed out of the primordial ooze, or since Eve made Adam the first cream of artichoke and mushroom soup (depending on your beliefs). Literally everyone does it so let’s just clear the air today, so I can go on to solve other more pressing issues like how many pounds of hair humans grow per day or how much fuel is lost due to the extra mass of chewing gum stuck under airplane seats. Of course, I’m thinking about rectal flatulence (oh, like you weren’t)... breaking wind, crop dusting, backblast, morning thunder, cutting the cheese, stepping on a toad, cutting loose, air bubbles, gassers, stinkers, air biscuits, low-flying ducks, barking spiders, rotten eggs, wet ones, poots, bork, Chanel No.2, parp and biff, crepidus, crack-rattler, fannitosis, fartrogen dioxide, mudslappers, poopy tunes, etc.
Now stop laughing, this is serious. Hold on, all that sniggering made General Colon Bowel need to bark some orders…Whew…Back to the business of farts…Seriously, we’re never going to get anywhere if you keep snickering about a little tailwind. It’s a perfectly natural occurrence (with the notable exception of some of you…you know who you are).

So, more specifically, I wanted to calculate weather or not it is possible to asphyxiate yourself with your own ass traffic. A worthy cause, right? The life I save could be my own.

Shall we begin? The normal oxygen concentration in the atmosphere is about 21%. An area that has an oxygen concentration of 19.5% or lower is considered oxygen deficient and can lead to unconsciousness or death. Kind of reminds me of my dorm room already. Assume your bedroom is 10’ x 10’ x 8’ and hermetically sealed. That’s 800ft3 of gas of which 21% or 168ft3 is oxygen. You would have to add ~61.5ft3 of blanket bombs to the room to dilute the O2 to the pass-out range. This begs the questions: how much church-house creeper gas does an average person release per day and what is the average fecal cloud composed of?

To answer these questions properly let’s look at why we are prone to releasing the divine wind. The gas comes from a couple of sources: nitrogen is out-gassed from the blood, air is gulped when we wolf down our food or chew gum, fizzy drinks add some CO2, the rest (CO2, Methane, Hydrogen, Hydrogen sulfide) are produced by bacteria in our intestines. The bacteria break down complex carbohydrates and help us eek out some more nutritional value from
the junk we eat. If they have difficulty breaking down the carbs or fibers then they produce gaseous waste byproducts and ferment the bean and cheese burrito that you ate yesterday. Yummy! We are not born with these bugs, but as soon as we are born we start accumulating them from the environment that we are raised in. So blame your parents for the way that your bean bombers smell. Some foods are more prone to cause your fauna to freak out. How ‘bout a seven layer cabbage, onion, mushroom, cheese, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprout salad with buttermilk dressing, some whole grain bread, a side of 12 bean soup washed down with a six pack of wheat beer and a glass of milk? You’d better not smoke. And find another ride home, Man! Did you know that Pumpernickel means "goblin that breaks wind" in Old German? You do now. The sorbitol in diet foods like candy, chewing gum, and sugar-free garbage can’t be broken down by our digestive system either. Sounds about right. You’re eating “diet” food so you can lose weight so you don’t feel so crappy, but the junk you’re eating makes your ham slam sound like someone’s prying open a rusty gate…Nice.

And stay away from Gas-X and Beano. There are no studies that show that it helps. In fact it may actually add to the problem. They have some cool promo materials on their websites, though. My favorite is the windbreaker. Yep, a Gas-X windbreaker. Irony, Anyone? I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Don’t hold it in, either. Holding back your jetwash could be hazardous to your health. Those toxic gases that the bacteria are
creating will get reabsorbed into your bloodstream and could poison you. Worse than that, the fart-saturated blood travels to your lungs where it outgases. Ever met someone who’s breath smells like he just licked clean the toilet at a primate house. Forget floss…that dude needs to tear arse more often. And maybe an Altoid now and then wouldn’t kill him.

I won’t even get into the noise. It’s a little too creepy. Let’s just say that there is a scientific term called “High-Drama Flatus.” Awesome.

O.K. let’s quit farting around and get back on track. The average human hatches a thunder dumpling 10-14 times a day, mostly while sleeping. This liberates anywhere between 200-2000mL of gas. Average is 600mL of foulness per person per day. The gas mix is (in ascending order) nitrogen, CO2, hydrogen, oxygen, methane, and trace ororants. Only about one half of the population produces methane which is determined by the type of bugs you have in your guts. So don’t feel embarrassed if your blue darts aren’t so blue. Blame it on your bacteria. Back to the hermetically-sealed, stink-filled Hell that is your bedroom. 1ft3 of gas is ~28 liters. So in order to asphyxiate, you would have to release 1740 liters of horror on yourself. Even if you were an alcoholic, lactose intolerant, vegetarian on a diet with a chewing gum addiction it would take you ~3 years to build up that much gas. Even if there were 10 of you sleeping in there it would still take over 3 months, and by that time somebody would have gotten their ass beat.

In today’s political climate it is fitting to tie this all into global warming. Considering methane has 21 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2, each person in the US drops the total global warming equivalent of to .5kg of CO2 per year from their anus. That’s 167,000 tons of gassy goodness expelled each year in the US alone. It would take 1.4 million trees (taking up about 20 square miles) a year to “Neutralize” our output. That works out to be ~.002% of the US’s total carbon footprint. Not horrible, but still horrible, if you know what I mean. This got me thinking. If we’re such slobs, what about the gross cows that you guys eat? It turns out that they are actually a huge problem (in more ways than one).

The EPA calls it Livestock Enteric Fermentation, which is a polite way of saying cow burps and pig farts. Livestock in New Zealand account for 60% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock in Australia contribute approximately 14% of that country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Belches and farts from sheep, cows and other farm animals account for around 20% of global methane emissions. In the US, cow chunder is the source of 21% of all methane emissions, second only to landfills. That’s enough natural gas to run ~4 million houses for a year. Seriously, don’t get me started on cows.

So what have we learned? First of all, we’ve learned that a bored Dan is a dangerous Dan. Hopefully, we’ve also discovered that, weather your flabbergasters are silent and smell like freshly baked muffins or you let ripsnorters that sound like a machine gun going off at a ballgame and smell like dimethyl burnyourlipsoff, we have only our parents to blame…So give your partners a Dutch Oven for me, and let the voice of the toothless one be heard!

Thanks for your patience.