A Science for Everyone, Community

Personal Carbon Disposal

I noticed this meme and it brought me to the topic of personal organic carbon – how much impact does each of us have on atmospheric CO2 enrichment as we leave our bodies behind.

Fortunately, I can figure out roughly how much carbon I am – the atomic mass of carbon is a little over 12, oxygen a little under 16, nitrogen a little over 14 and calcium a touch over 40.  Since that’s the lion’s share of amino acids, a little research can give me the percentage carbon in my body.  Another alternative is to google it and learn that about 18% of my body is carbon. 

That means that at 220 pounds, the planet will regain about 40 pounds of carbon from my lifeless carcass one day.  I can handle that – but it isn’t my decision.  My thoughts go with a shallow burial in a shroud, to become carbon that is sequestered in the soil three or four feet down.  Depending on the energy required to dig the small ditch and fill it back in, this may be the most environmentally friendly way of dealing with the carbon that is no longer mine.

An August 31, 2021 Huffington Post article explains that “cremating a single corpse usually takes between two and three hours and releases almost 600 pounds of carbon dioxide.”  Making the assumption that, at 220 pounds I’m at the top end of normal, let’s use that 600 pound number.  Carbon is 12, oxygen 16, so carbon dioxide is 44.  12/44 is .2727, so multiplying that with 600 puts about 164 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere.

It does make one wonder about the level of environmental responsibility in the Service poem “The cremation of Sam McGee.”  There’s something that just seems wrong about adding 160 pounds of carbon – 600 pounds of greenhouse gas – to the atmosphere when we could add 40 pounds of carbon to the soil.

Laura van der Pol explains “Agriculture covers more than half of Earth’s terrestrial surface and contributes roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Paying farmers to restore carbon-depleted soils offers a tantalizing opportunity for a natural climate solution that could help nations to meet their commitments under the international Paris climate agreement to stabilize global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

An international initiative called “4 per 1000,” launched at the 2015 Paris climate conference, showed that increasing soil carbon worldwide by just 0.4% yearly could offset that year’s new growth in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel emissions.”

Gasoline is about 5 ½  pounds of carbon per gallon – so each gallon produces about 20 pounds of CO2 – so, while my cremated corpse would be equivalent to 30 gallons of gas in the atmosphere, sequestering that carbon in the soil would be roughly 4 gallons of unburned gasoline.

A Science for Everyone

Climate Change: Technology and the Little Ice Age

I like the term “Anthropic Global Warming” better than the generic “Climate Change.”  Living in an area that was covered by glaciers 15,000 years ago, I have ample evidence to convince me that climate changes – my challenge is quantifying how much is human caused and how much has natural causes.  And I like a term that defines the direction of change.

English history – from the Roman occupation forward – provides records of a warm climate cooling off and entering what is termed “The Little Ice Age.”  There is a historical record of climate change, and, equally important to a Non-Malthusian demographer, the technological changes people developed to deal with the climate change is written down.

Connections, by James Burke, offers this: “Among the earliest references to the change comes from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, kept by monks for the year 1046: ‘And in the same year after the 2nd of February came the severe winter with frost and snow, and with all kinds of bad weather, so that there was not a man alive who could remember so severe a winter as that, both through mortality of man and disease of cattle; both birds and fishes perished through the great cold and hunger.” (p157)

Connections explores the connections between events and technical development.  It continues further down the page: “The chief stimulus to change was the need to stay alive through winters that became increasingly severe, as the monks had noted.  The first innovation that came to the aid of the shivering communities was the chimney.  Up until this time, there had been but one central hearth, in the hall during winter, and outside during summer.  The smoke from the central fire simply went up and out through a hole in the roof.  After the weather changed, this was evidently too inefficient a way of heating a room full of people who until then would have slept the night together.”

Ultimate History Project: “Conisbrough Castle built in the 12th century has the earliest extant chimneys.”
Ultimate History Project: “Scottish Black Houses are named for the smoke seeping from their chimneyless roofs.”

Page 159 continues:  “The building to which the new chimney was added had already begun to change in reaction to the bad weather.  The open patio-style structure had been replaced by a closed off building, built to withstand violent meteorological changes.  The new chimney, whose earliest English example is at Conisborough Keep in Yorkshire (1185) also produced structural changes in the house.  The use of a flue to conduct away sparks meant that the center of the room was no longer the only safe space for a fire.  To begin with, buildings were by now less fully timbered so the risk of fire was less, and the flue permitted the setting of the fire in a corner or against a wall. . . The hood on the fireplace prevented sparks from reaching the ceiling, and as a smaller room could more readily be heated than a larger one, the ceilings could now be lower.”

“Two major innovations occurred by the fourteenth century, at the latest: knitting, and the button.  The earliest buttons are to be seen on the Adamspforte in Bamberg cathedral, and on a relief at Bassenheim, both in Germany, near Hapsburg around 1232.   The first example of knitting is depicted in the altarpiece at Buxtchude, where the Virgin Mary is shown knitting clothes for the infant Jesus.  Both buttons and knitting contributed to closer-fitting clothes that were better at retaining heat.”

Buxtehude Madonna
First Example of Knitting

Burke’s books – Connections and The Pinball Effect are loaded with examples of how events are connected with technical development.