July 21, 2009, 17:00 PDT

The milky way

Cadbury puts quash on cow gas

Cow resting.
No burping or farting, please! So read a recent memo coming out of British chocolate-maker Cadbury – to its bovine employees. In an effort to reduce its contribution to global warming, the company has been looking at ways to reduce the amount of methane given off by its cows.

According to Cadbury, over 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions come from the milk used to make its chocolate — a glass and a half per bar, as it proudly states. Each dairy cow annually emits between 80 and 120 kg of methane (incidentally, mainly through burping and not farting) — which is equivalent to the carbon emissions given off by an average family car over a year. As if eating chocolate wasn’t guilt-inducing enough for some already.

So, the company is teaching its farmers to put their cows on a diet and has recently come out with a guide to low carbon farming. By modifying their diets, the hope is to reduce the amount of methane that is produced by micro-organisms in the cows’ stomachs.

Of course, it's not all about methane, which makes up only about a quarter of the average dairy farm's emissions. Cadbury has committed itself to a reduction of 50% in its overall carbon emissions by the year 2020, and says it's on track to achieve a 10% reduction by 2010. Going "low carbon" will mean farmers have to take a hard look at the overall energy efficiency of their processes and improve the way they use fertilizers. And let's not forget the practice of deforestation, labeled by some as the "hidden cause of global warming," which is used to make way for new pastures. More on that another time.

July 20, 2009, 17:00 PDT

Bold climate

We have liftoff

Bold climate

Welcome to my big fat planet, a new climate blog from NASA!

On these pages we will be offering a smattering of stories, science and interesting tidbits from the world of climate change and climate research. Hear the latest and greatest from NASA scientists and others who are in the throes of studying our changing planet, along with news, views and quirky tales along the way. Haaang on a minute, I hear you say. NASA does space, not climate change, right? True, NASA has helped pioneer our exploration of space, reaching out to the farthest corners of our Solar System and peering back to the beginning of the universe. But venturing out into space has also — literally and metaphorically — allowed us to see the wood for the trees, giving us a unique and unprecedented view of our home planet. Studying Earth’s climate from space allows us to make measurements on a truly global scale, giving us a far bigger picture than is possible from the ground (although ground observations are still crucial). And the information we have collected has taught us just how interconnected the different parts of our climate are.

Today, NASA has twenty satellites in orbit around Earth that are studying every aspect of our climate — the oceans, land, ice cover and the atmosphere. NASA has become a major player in the climate arena; in 2007, it spent $1.1 billion out of a total U.S. climate science budget of $1.8 billion.

Being in space gives us a unique set of eyes on the Earth, and we hope to share that with you. Saudi Arabian astronaut (and incidentally the first member of royalty in space) Sultan Salman Abdulaziz Al-Saud described his view of Earth from space with these words (courtesy of Bella Gaia):

“The first day, we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day, we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only One Earth.”
Enjoy the ride.