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Penguins give it to climate

10 Jun 2020 | OP ED Watch

As you know, all effects of climate change are bad. And all contribute to runaway instability that laughs at the famous dynamic equilibrium of nature. But here’s one to make you chuckle: Penguins give off laughing gas dangerous to the climate so if warming wipes them out, there will be a silver lining.

No, it’s not an April Fool’s item. We know what day it is. But the story from Science Daily says that a post-penguin fish, to describe guano as delicately as possible, is very rich in nitrous oxide. So rich that University of Copenhagen researchers studying vast king penguin colonies on remote desolate smelly South Georgia island literally became lightheaded from the stuff. (The hydrogen sulphide didn’t help, apparently.) Penguins devour fish and krill, both rich in nitrogen, and once they’re done with it bacteria plunge in and convert it to NO. Which is no laughing matter because that stuff dentists used between ether and today’s injected anaesthetic is “300 times more polluting than CO2” according to “Professor Bo Elberling, of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management.”

Strange, by the way, that it’s always a round number. Why couldn’t it be 297 times more “polluting” than CO2, or 313 times? And again, what’s with calling something that’s part of the much-admired cycle of life polluting? Not insulting Mother Nature, are we?

No. Indeed not. We’re insulting humans. As you might imagine from research that got funded in the modern world, there’s a tie-in with climate change. Right there in the press release: “Knowledge of how penguin droppings affect the Earth and atmosphere is highly relevant in the fight against climate-damaging greenhouse gases. Elberling continues: ‘While nitrous oxide emissions in this case are not enough to impact Earth's overall energy budget, our findings contribute to new knowledge about how penguin colonies affect the environment around them, which is interesting because colonies are generally becoming more and more widespread.’ He concludes by asserting that, ‘we should learn from this in relation to Danish agriculture, where large quantities of nitrous oxide are emitted by nitrogen fertilisers in fields. One of the things we can learn, for example, is how and when to fertilise vis-à-vis the optimal conditions for soil bacteria to produce nitrous oxide.’”

Wait a minute. Colonies are becoming more widespread? Weren’t we told those cute little penguins were going extinct along with those cuddly big polar bears and the trees and stuff? It even seems that penguin guano is helping turn Antarctica green which, we notice elsewhere, is an unusual good-news story in that the algae in question help absorb CO2. But while every prospect pleases, man is vile. His farming emits NO and it’s a big no-no.

In fact the EU dares people to eat a bug. In one of those classic “are people ready for” stories Florence Schulz of Euractiv.de deplores the emissions of methane from cattle, and also from producing their feed. Wait until she gets a whiff of nitrous oxide.

One comment on “Penguins give it to climate”

  1. I assume I'll not be the first to point out that Nitrous Oxide is (chemically speaking) N20, not NO, which is Nitric Oxide. But this piece is one of a number of wonderful articles in this edition of CDN. Were its implications not so serious, the wealth of amusement in the Climate Change debate, as self-declared experts turn themselves into pretzels in search of relevance, is as refreshing as Monty Python sketches.

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