“Today’s debate about global warming is essentially a debate about freedom. The environmentalists would like to mastermind each and every possible (and impossible) aspect of our lives.”
Blue Planet in Green Shackles
January 14, 2013
Do you sincerely want to save the planet?
As soon as I wrote that sentence, I stared at it, wondering why I had chosen those words to launch a simple tale. Then I realised: it had sprung from my subconscious, my memory of a book of 40 years ago, one of the first to expose and explain the venality of get-rich-quick charlatans of Wall Street. Do you Sincerely Want to be Rich? was the name of the book; it had been the catch-cry of Bernie Cornfeld and his boys of I.O.S. -- Investors Overseas Services. In the '50s and '60s they ripped billions out of gullible punters in the world’s first big mutual funds racket, one that made Ponzi schemes seem like a cake raffle. Operating all over Europe, arbitraging between the uncoordinated regulatory systems, by the end of the 1960s they had $2.5 billion of other peoples’ money to manage, and they managed it for themselves. Charles Raw, Bruce Page and Godfrey Hodgson who wrote the book, commented dryly: “I.O.S. was not a respectable financial institution – it was a swindle.”
Which is also no doubt the other reason the phrase popped into my head when I sat down to write a helpful note about the latter-day, and much more damaging swindle – the scientist-orchestrated fraud of anthropogenic climate change. But before we get to the uncomfortable details, we need to set the scene in the greenfields of lunacy.
In 2006, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation issued a serious paper from its comfortable headquarters in Rome (where even its senior accounting staff enjoy diplomatic privileges and have country seats in Umbria). Entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, the report made an hysterical statement that got immediate attention from people like George Monbiot of The Guardian and set hares running all round the world. Its basic claim was that livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport. Using a methodology which (it proudly boasted) considered the entire commodity chain, the FAO put the boot into cows and their cowherds. Grazing, it said, occupied 26% of the earth’s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production required about one-third of all arable land. And it was getting worse - expansion of grazing land was a key factor in deforestation; 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon was now used as pasture.
One small problem – the same consideration of the entire commodity chain had not been applied to transport. Only the emissions from vehicle exhaust pipes, not all those generated, from mining to production to distribution, had been taken into account. So the FAO was comparing, let’s say, Holsteins with Holdens, an Angus with an Aston Martin or a Charolais with a Corolla … need I go on? It turned out the FAO had been conned into this comparison by the World Wide Fund for Nature, that same WWF responsible for the false claims in the IPCC’s 4AR 2007, of Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035, and 40% of Amazonian rainforests threatened by climate change. The FAO was eventually ‘outed’ by a number of scientists, chief among them Professor Frank Mitloehner of the School of Veterinary Medicine of UCLA. He pointed out that although FAO had used a life cycle assessment for global livestock production, it had not used an equally holistic approach for its transportation prediction numbers. To illustrate the distortion, Mitloehner observed that in the U.S., for example, raising cattle and pigs for food accounted for 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation created an estimated 26%.
In the meantime, climate zealots had turned the FAO’s erroneous figures into a campaign: Less Meat = Less Heat. In 2007, Time magazine ran articles headlined:
‘Which is responsible for more global warming: your BMW or your Big Mac?
Believe it or not, it’s your Big Mac’ and ‘A 16 oz T-bone is like a Hummer on a plate. Switching to vegetarianism can shrink your carbon footprint by 1.5 tons of CO2 per year’
The Los Angeles Times became lachrymose:
‘A Tearful, Reluctant Farewell to My Favourite Food: Meat.’
Not to be outdone, the New York Times followed with:
‘A warming world: pollution on the hoof.’
The Lancet, no longer a pure medical journal, more a social reformer, published a supposedly academic research paper entitled ‘Food, Livestock Production, Energy, Climate Change and Health’ in October the same year. ‘Health’ had obviously been tacked on to justify The Lancet’s interest. Under an Australian lead author, Professor Anthony J McMichael of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Public Health at the A.N.U., the paper declared:
“Both the average worldwide consumption level of animal products and the intensity of emissions from livestock production must be reduced.”
The good professor’s prescription proposed:
“90g per day as a working global target, shared more evenly, with not more than 50g per day coming from red meat from ruminants (i.e. cattle, sheep, goats and other digastric grazers).”
We could have re-written the slogan: More Lies = More Targets.
Who better to give the campaign a little more momentum than Dr Rachendra Pachauri, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2007 and head of the IPCC? Fresh from his denials of responsibility for the “mistakes” about Himalayan glaciers (for which he rewarded the scientist responsible – Professor Syed Iqbal Hasnain - by appointing him head of the Glaciology Team of his own Teri Institute), Dr Pachauri addressed the Belgian vegetarian organization EVA in the city of Ghent. One of the most beneficial lifestyle changes, he said, would be to switch to a diet with less meat. And to hammer home the benefit to the planet, he went on: ”If during one year, all Belgians would just have one meatless day a week, this would have the same beneficial effect on greenhouse gas emission as taking almost one million cars off the Belgian roads for an entire year.” As Marie Antoinette would have said: “They want to drive? Pshaw – then let them eat lentils.” By the time Britain’s best-known vegetarian family, Paul McCartney and wife Linda had joined in, The Independent newspaper was over-excitedly, proclaiming that “livestock are responsible for 37% of global emissions.” Just twice the FAO’s figure.
Australia has 25 million cattle and about 100-million sheep, which do belch large amounts of greenhouse gas. This is principally methane (CH4 which has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 21 times greater than CO2). Reasonable scientists allow these animals to be responsible for about 12% to 14% of (CO2 equivalent) emissions in this country from all sources. There are also kangaroos, about 34 million just in the rangeland grazing areas, but their flatulence contains no methane. That prompted Associate Professor Athol Klieve of Queensland University’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences to investigate. The 'roo is not a ruminant, and thanks to special bacteria in its stomach, anaerobic digestive process produces acetic acid (vinegar) instead of methane-loaded flatulence. Professor Klieve has been working for several years to find a way to give cattle and sheep the kangaroo’s bacteria to run their digestion. When I spoke to him for this essay, he was still confident of success, although more detailed work at the molecular level is now involved. The benefit, if he can pull it off, is not only to reduce methane emissions, but more importantly, to increase productivity by making the digestive process more efficient. Cattle might get 10% to 15% more energy out of their feed, saving farmers and graziers millions of dollars and reducing the impact of droughts. For an animal nutritionist, that would be the big payoff.
Reading up on flatulence, I realised what the IPCC, FAO, Dr Pachauri, Paul McCartney and warmist journalists had all missed in their arithmetical approach to atmospheric chemistry: people. What about human emissions? Surely someone willing to pay up to 50% more for a car because it has a bank of batteries as well as an internal combustion engine, or put solar panels on his roof when their cost of generating electricity was ten times that of central power stations, would be interested in doing their little bit for the planet? So I investigated flatus.
Fart, a word unmentionably vulgar when I was growing up, but now restored to popular currency and everyday use, has had a rich and even artistic history. In literature down the centuries it has been used in humour, vilification and revenge. Seneca the Younger in his political satire Apocolocyntosis, has the Divine Emperor Claudius die with, as it were, his last breath:
“The last words he was heard to speak in this world were these. When he had made a great noise with that end of him which talked easiest, he cried out: ‘Oh dear, oh dear! I think I have made a mess of myself.’ Whether he did or no, I cannot say, but certain it is he always did make a mess of everything.”
Chaucer’s "fecopoetics", as Eileen Joy, mediaeval literature specialist and Assistant Professor of English at Southern Illinois University calls it, plays up the pilgrims’ windy anecdotes. In The Summoner’s Tale, Thomas farts thunderously in the friar’s hand, as that venal individual seeks to find “A thing that I have hyd in pryvetee.” In The Miller’s Tale:
This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart
As greet as it had been a thunder-dent
That with the strook he was almost yblent
This Nicholas just then let fly a fart
As loud it had been a thunder-clap
And well-nigh blinded Absolom, poor chap
In 1607, a fart emitted in the House of Commons led to a brilliant satire in couplets, recording the reaction to the event of every member of the House, by name. (Could we plagiarise it for Canberra?) A fragment of ‘The Parliament Fart’ suffices to convey the flavour:
“Not soe neither quoth Sir Henry Jenkin
The motion was good; but for the stincking
Well, quoth Sir Henry Pool it was a bold tricke
To Fart in the nose of the bodie pollitique
Indeed I most confesse quoth Sir Edward Grevill
The matter of it selfe was somewhat uncivill”
These lines come from a web-based edition of early 17th century poetry entitled Early Stuart Libels published by Alastair Bellamy of Rutgers, and Andrew McRae of Exeter University. These verse libels – scandalous, defamatory poems surreptitiously circulating, were criticisms of courtiers, councillors and royal policies – in their time highly dangerous publications. The risk, as the two editors observe, was spelt out in the last lines of The Parliament Fart:
“Come come quoth the King, libeling is not safe
Bury you the fart, I’le make the Epitaph”
Fast-forward three centuries to Paris and the Moulin Rouge where a baker from Marseilles had the ladies literally rolling in the aisles at his gastro-hydrolic/pneumatic demonstrations. As a schoolboy at the beach, Joseph Pujol had discovered that by contracting his abdominal muscles, he could ingest into his rectum as much water as he wished. Later, in the army, he demonstrated to his mates that he could eject it in a powerful controlled stream. Then he experimented with air, and learned to mimic all manner of sounds as he expelled it.
By the time he reached Paris from a raging success in the provinces, Pujol had become "Le Petomane" – The Fartiste, and a celebrity throughout Europe. The King of Belgium came incognito one night to believe his ears. Paul Spinrad who has written the definitive account of his career in The RE/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, says Pujol’s sonic range encompassed tenor, baritone and bass. He could produce the sound of thunder, cannons, and in a ten-second riff, imitate a dressmaker tearing two yards of calico. This extraordinary music-hall act has continued its ghastly fascination down the years – I recall Phillip Adams made Le Petomane the subject of his very first newspaper column, I think as a signal that it was clever to shock – but I doubt if we will see his like again.
Death is not the only leveller; gastric concoctions afflict us all. Kings, queens, prime ministers, climate scientists, even that pretty girl at the bus stop must daily choose between stentorian sound and surreptitious "stink". It’s no easy task, but the one thing we can be thankful for is that we are better off than the crinoid, whose U-shaped gut places its anus next to its mouth.
Whoever has done the research, it’s said that men may face the decision as many as twelve times a day, and women seven. The daily volume may vary; 300 to 700 millilitres seems to be the agreed output, but one study in the Central Middlesex Hospital London in 1971, published in the medical journal Gut found a combination of beans and brussels sprouts increased the volume by 44%.
Diet decides. Soluble fibre is the main culprit, because it’s not broken down until it reaches the large intestine. There, bacterial digestion of foods like oat bran, peas, beans and most fruits produce flatulence. And what’s the analysis? Depending on the diet: nitrogen 20-90%; hydrogen 0–50%; carbon dioxide 10-30%; oxygen 0-10% and methane 0-10%. All of which explains why some emissions can be both inflammable and explosive.
This anterior topic attracted the attentions of the American Physiological Society some years ago. It published a paper headed: Insights into human colonic physiology obtained from the study of flatus composition, which revealed the four authors had persuaded 16 subjects to submit analysis of their flatus passage over a four-hour period to analysis by gas chromatography for N2, O2, H2, CO2, CH4 and for odiferous sulfur-containing gases. Which just shows some people will do anything for science. Do you wish to know the explanation for the frequently unpleasant odour? It mainly results from low molecular weight fatty acids such as butyric acid (rancid butter smell) and reduced sulphur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg smell) and carbonyl sulphide that are the result of protein breakdown. What climate control economist Ross Garnaut would call "a perverse outcome".
When H.J. Heinz launched one of the greatest advertising slogans of all time in 1967: “Beanz meanz Heinz” everybody schoolboy chortled: “And Heinz meanz Fartz.” The author of the real slogan, a schoolboy, seems never to have got the credit for it. In 1957 Heinz had staged a promotional Treasure Hunt competition for a slogan. Ten-year-old Jeff Bennett submitted the winning entry and won a £100 voucher from Hamleys of Regent Street, "The Biggest Toyshop in the World". Heinz sat on the idea for a decade. Whether the potential downside of the slogan was responsible, or even discussed, we may never know, but once committed, Heinz kept on with it for thirty years. In 2000 it was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame.
What’s to be done about the consequences of bean-eating, and how can we profit from it? The stakes are high – Australians eat a lot of baked beans, although unable to rival the British, who eat more than a million cans a week. So here we make a short detour into paleontology (but I promise you, we will come back to the end before the end). Louis B. Leakey was the patriarch of a distinguished family of excavators of pre-history in East Africa who added significantly to our knowledge of early humans. He had a bumpy career, being alternately lauded for his discoveries and vilified for alleged hoaxes, but finally was fully restored to the pantheon of paleontologists. His first young wife, Frida was an artist, which came in useful for sketching the stone age implements Louis was digging up in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania in his search for mankind’s beginnings. It was Frida who discovered the site in the Olduvai Gorge now known as FLK (Frida Leakey Korongo North) where Louis’ second wife, Mary turned up parts of an early male hominid (or hominin if you want to argue the taxonomy) which she named Zinjanthropus or Nutcracker Man, because of his large teeth. Louis Leakey left Frida a few months after their son, Colin, was born in 1933 to run off with Mary, an archeologist and anthropologist who was much more useful to his work. It is Colin, and not Australopithecus Boise (the new name for Zijathropus) that we are concerned with here.
Colin Leakey looks forward, not back. He is one of Britain’s leading plant scientists, a geneticist and a scrupulous follower of Mendelian breeding discipline. But where Mendel was into peas, Leakey got into beans. He studied tropical agriculture in several countries and went to teach at Makerere University in Uganda. While there he was asked to find a nutritious bean that could be fed to under-nourished babies as a weaning food without causing colic. A grant from the Ford Foundation financed his work, which had no success. But it led to an investigation for NASA when it was trying to develop food for astronauts that would not produce dangerous methane. The beans then available didn’t pass the test. The reason, Leakey came to believe, lay in polyphenols commonly found in the skin of the bean. He suspected a particular colourless group known as proanthrocyanadins.
In the late 1970’s he held a part-time consultancy to H J Heinz Ltd, which was trying to foster production of Navy beans for its cans by non-traditional producers. Normally imported from the U.S., the price of Navy beans had trebled. On behalf of Heinz, Leakey travelled to several countries, and on a chance visit to a remote village in Chile, noticed that some beans in the local market were much dearer than others. When he asked the reason, he was told they were “for the rich man’s table” – an explanation accompanied by rubbing the stomach, a rolling of the eyes and much laughter. That was the start of a breeding experiment leading to the development over 25 years of new varieties in France, and the Prim bean (prim and proper) that could be grown in Britain and guaranteed flatus-free.
Colin Leakey helped set up a company, Peas & Beans, to market the new bean but ran into commercial apathy. It wasn’t that Heinz and the other food companies were pro-flatulence; they just didn’t like to publicise what baked beans had been responsible for, over so many years. I even found a quote Heinz had taken the trouble to issue to the Wall Street Journal, that “beans are no different than (sic) any other high-fiber foods in their effect on the digestive system.”
“Heinz can deny whatever it wants," Leakey (left with his magic beans) told an English journalist in response, “there isn’t a second-grader in the United States who can’t recite: ‘Beans, beans, good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you fart.’ The Prim bean has now found its way into British shops, as an IQF (individually quick frozen) organic product, ready to serve, instead of in cans.
Colin Leakey is a very thorough scientist. So to assess the results of his bean breeding experiments, he didn’t rely on peer reviews or a U.N. panel of experts, much less the predictions of a computer model. He measured the emissions of flatus from different bean meals – his own. Having created a new scientific sub-set of gastrology which he called "flatology", he then invented the "flatometer." You may be disinclined to believe me, but sixteen years ago Leakey was granted UK Patent GB 2 289 222 A for that device. I quote from the patent citation under the title: Improvement in or Relating to Gas Collection:
The invention provides a device for collecting flatus gas from a human or animal subject, comprising a gas-tight collecting tube for insertion into the rectum of the subject and retaining means, locatable in the subject’s inner-sphincter groove, for retaining the device in the subject.
Leakey’s whimsical streak was confirmed in the next paragraph:
The inner-sphincter groove, as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art, is intended to refer to the space between the inner and outer sphincter muscles of the ano-rectal passage. The distance between the inner-sphincter groove and the exterior of the anus can vary slightly between individuals. It is therefore a preferred feature that the relative spacing of the retaining means and the guide means is adjustable, such that the device can be adjusted to a good fit for any subject. Preferably the retaining means comprise rubber O-rings, having appropriate dimensions. To obtain a sample of flatus gas from a subject, a collecting bag is attached to a gas tap, and a gas-tight seal established between the two.
I understand that on the first experimental model, the gas tap was taken from a wine cask, which as we know was an Australian invention, giving new meaning to ‘down-under’. The patent documents include Leakey’s detailed drawings illustrating how opening the tap allows the gas to pass via a tube into a collecting balloon. He measured the volume by the displacement method.
By now it will be apparent where this labyrinthine tale is heading. What better contribution for true believers to make towards halting climate change and saving the planet for our grandchildren and their grandchildren than to save their own greenhouse gases? This truly could be called the greatest moral challenge of our generation. Unlike the Renewable Energy Targets or the Green Initiatives (which have had to be scrapped), or the improperly named “carbon” tax, which may yet bring down a government, here is a programme for unparalleled job creation and productivity improvement.
First, there’s the production and distribution of the Leakey tubes and balloons. Then, the need for what might be called "deflation stations" dotted around the country, where concerned citizens would take gas-filled balloons to make their daily deposit. The banks, which have been so keen to trade carbon credits, might be persuaded to install FDMs (Flatus Depositing Machines) beside their ATMs – so customers could make withdrawals and deposits more or less simultaneously.
Until citizens overcome their natural modesty, and realise how much more comfortable it would be to wear their gas bags outside their clothing, they couldn’t earn as many moral vanity points as being seen driving a Prius or having solar panels on their roofs. So good-citizenship awards -– little balloon stick-pins for Bronze-, Silver- and Gold-class performers, a campaign "Wear the Balloon with Pride", even a new level of the Order of Australia for outstanding production (the O.F.?) -- might be necessary to provide incentivation. The marketing creativity of the Gruen Planet team could be relied on to iron out these little difficulties.
Leadership will be critical; who better to lead the crusade than Professors Garnaut and Flannery, Clive Hamilton, Malcolm Turnbull or Penny Wong. Television endorsements with the heartfelt appeal: "I’m stuck up – what about you?" could have tremendous push-power for the ultimate in carbon capture and storage. A $30 million government TV campaign built around "Deflate for Australia" would popularise an essential service that might at first be met with some scepticism. But eventually every car would proudly carry the bumper sticker: "I Fart for Gaia!"
Is this too difficult? Come on Aussie, Come on! If you can be convinced – despite all the evidence of scientific fraud, academic bullying, twisted hockey sticks and bogus claims of death threats – to believe in anthropogenic climate change and think the carbon tax will save Australia and the planet – you can do anything.
Geoffrey Luck worked for the ABC for 26 years as a senior reporter and news editor
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray