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Oxen vs SUV

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Oxcart versus SUV

Here is a photo I took while travelling in the countryside in Madagascar: a cute little cart powered by two oxen, more precisely two zebus. In this little village, there is no electricity, no tap water, no telephone, no cars. When I stepped back in my rental 4x4, I felt somewhat ashamed and embarrassed to pollute the environment in such an eco-friendly place: "These guys use virtually no fossil fuel and therefore don't contribute to global warming."

This is what I was naively thinking when visiting the place... But things are not always what they seem: After coming back from Madagascar, I read that the

average French cow produces more greenhouse gases than the average French car. How is it possible? Quite simply because cows fart all day long and CH4, the main constituent of the gases released by the intestines, is a highly potent greenhouse gas; far more potent than CO2.


I didn't find any statistics about the amount of CH4 released by a zebu. However, it seems reasonable to suspect that if a French cow releases more greenhouse gases than a car, then a pair of Malagasy zebus probably releases more greenhouse gases than a 4x4 or SUV... Rather amazing that these quiet farmers leading a very simple low-tech lifestyle might be contributing to global warming nearly as much as Westerners leading a high-tech life...


This might seem anecdotal but it is not. We should always keep in mind that environmental issues are extremely complex. Massively burning fossil fuels like we currently do probably has immense adverse effects on the environment. However so-called "green" sources of energy also have adverse effects on the environment and these adverse effects must be assessed carefully as in some cases, they could be worse than burning fossil fuels.


For example, hydroelectric dams are often described as the ideal source of clean energy. At first sight, it indeed seems perfect: Water flows in a turbine and produces electricity.  No smoke, no hazardous chemicals, no nuclear wastes, no CO2. Unfortunately, things are not always that simple and some hydroelectric plants actually release more greenhouse gases per kwh than a coal plant...  the decaying organic matter in the stagnant waters held behind hydroelectric dams, indeed releases huge amount of CH4. Not to mention the CO2 released during the production of the concrete used to build the dam, the disruption to wildlife etc... In the end, hydroelectricity is not the clean source of energy we often think it is...

In the end, you can't prepare an omelet without breaking a few eggs and whatever source of energy you use, you will have to break eggs. The broken eggs could be the use of large land area, depletion of natural resources to build the energy producing facilities, disruption to wildlife etc... I am stunned when I hear journalists talking about 100% green energy. Such a source of energy does not exist and will never exist.



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