View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wednesday 16 December

Good morning from Stornoway, where the weather is dreich and drizzly. The sun does come through, giving rise to the odd rainbow or two.

A focus on roadsafety this week. Police in Scotland are given powers to impound the cars of drink drivers, where these are repeat offenders. The BBC has published a sobering map, showing road deaths across the UK. And proposals are mooted to lower the speedlimit in accident blackspots, from 60 mph to 50 mph or less. Speed tends to be a major contributing factor, but so does alcohol.

Talks are due to resume this afternoon, between British Airways management and the trades union Unite over the threatened 12-day walkout, due to start on December 22nd. The atmosphere is not very good, with accusations and counter-accusations flying back and forth. Legal action to stop the strike, based on BA's assertion that the ballot was not conducted legally, is also pursued today.

Climate change - your contribution

Everyone should make a contribution towards the reduction in CO2. It is not just down to governments and companies to keep the earth liveable, each individual citizen has to work on a respectful relationship with the environment.

Radio and television are full of programs; book a holiday at home rather than abroad, flush the toilet using the waste water from the shower, eat vegetarian one day each week, take the bicycle rather than the car and grow ivy against the walls of your house.

I have a proposal that has not yet been mooted: fart less and stop belching. In that context, let me explain something about horses and cows. These, and other ruminants, are the most talented belchers. One cow emits 600 litres of methane gas a day. The US national cowherd belches 50 million tons of methane into the atmosphere. The belched air of ten cows can provide all the energy of a mid-terrace house. According to the World Food Organisation, the world’s cows produce more greenhouse gases than cars. Methane gas is the main culprit, being 23 times more conducive towards global warming than CO2. Horses, donkeys and zebras are not ruminants. They too produce a lot of intestinal gases. They however are specialised in farting. This expulsion of methane and CO2 contributes to the greenhouse effect.

The average European produces 6 to 12 belches a day. After one hot meal, 3 to 4 belches are customary. We fart 12 to 25 times a day, producing 700 millilitres of gas in the process. The world’s population produces 4.2 billion liters of wind a day, of which 1 billion litres of CO2 and 800,000 litres of methane. Although people are no match to horses or cows when it comes to farting and belching, our exhaust gases do make a substantial contribution towards the climate problems.

What can be done about that? The main source of belches and farts is the formation of gas in your belly. Bacteria in the large intestine break down undigested food. This yields large amounts of gas. If you wish to make an original contribution to the aims of the Copenhagen summit, follow the advice below.
Foods that produce a lot of wind are beans, radish, cabbages, sprouts, garlic and onions. Consume these items in moderation, take frequent and small meals and chew well. Unripe fruits and fruit juices are not digested very well, and give rise to gas.

“Light” products usually contain artificial sweeteners, which end up in the large intestine, being digested into large amounts of gas. Drinking less of CO2-containing drinks, like beer and lemonades, can also decrease the amount of harmful exhaustfumes.

A team of Australian scientists has recently developed a vaccine against the bacteria that form methane in the large intestine. After two injections, the production of methane shows a marked decrease. So far, however, this has only been successful in sheep. But who knows, if it works in sheep, the jump to humans can’t be that difficult. The day may come that you can eat your sprouts and beans without warming the earth with your farts and belches.

Translated from an original newspaper article by Dr Paul van Dijk, GP in The Netherlands