Friday, August 01, 2008


If you look at a candy bar or other (manufactured) food item you will see the list of ingredients in order from that which is most predominant to the least. They don't always list percentages so that companies don't have to divulge their "secret formula" for whatever thing they are trying to sell us. Sometimes they further obscure this by listing other manufactured ingredients, along with (in parenthesis) their list of ingredients, again in descending order:

Cooked white chicken, mayonnaise (soybean oil, water, egg yolks, distilled vinegar, sugar...), celery, water chestnuts, sugar, bread crumbs (bleached wheat flour, sugar, yeast and salt), vinegar, glucono delta lactone, onion, salt, gum arabic.

So in the above list which I slightly abbreviated by use of ellipses, we see that sugar is mentioned multiple times as is vinegar, and salt. Water is mentioned as an ingredient of mayonnaise, but not as an ingredient in bread crumbs (I'd like to see that baking technique). At the end of this list in bold letters for people with poor reading comprehensions they add:

Made with: Egg, soy, wheat.

On some foods to this they now add something like:

Processed on machinery that may have been used to process peanuts or other nut products.

I'm all for full labeling of ingredients in the food we eat. It's one of those areas where the government has, by mandating this labeling, provided a level playing field for all food producers. It would be interesting to see what percentage this adds to the cost of our foods. I would hope it is fairly small.

I used to think carbon dioxide was a fairly major component of our atmosphere. It is in fact "right up there", in a food labelling sense, with nitrogen (which I knew was the major ingredient) and oxygen (which we need, but would kill us if breathed in its pure form for too long). Because it comes in third on the list, carbon dioxide could (again in a food labeling sense) be as much as almost one third of our atmosphere (for example if nitrogen were 35 percent and oxygen were 34 percent and CO2 were 31 percent). It wouldn't surprise me if much of the public has such a loosey goosey picture of what our atmosphere is made of. It must certainly please demagogues such as Al Gore. Fortunately, we don't have to worry about a "secret recipe" when it comes to our atmosphere.

Here are the facts (from Encarta):

Atmosphere: mixture of gases surrounding any celestial object that has a gravitational field strong enough to prevent the gases from escaping; especially the gaseous envelope of Earth. The principal constituents of the atmosphere of Earth are nitrogen (78 percent) and oxygen (21 percent). The atmospheric gases in the remaining 1 percent are argon (0.9 percent), carbon dioxide (0.03 percent), varying amounts of water vapor, and trace amounts of hydrogen, ozone, methane, carbon monoxide, helium, neon, krypton, and xenon

So next time you hear a statement like:

...there is 31 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than there was in 1750, the result of our burning coal and fuels derived from oil. Methane, nitrous oxide, and CFCs are greenhouse gases as well.

...just remember that that means there was .02 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere before 1750 (and also remember that a percent is one hundredth). I rather think that when I have been given that statement about 1750 (before which I guess we just froze to death without burning anything) I'm being intentionally mislead, unless there is a footnote or something spelling out exactly what that increase is a percentage of.

Given all the animals on our planet who breath and exhale CO2, all the factories, all the output of volcanoes, does this give anyone other than me a changed sense of just how big our atmosphere is?

It's sort of like saying that that candy bar processing machine may have been used to process peanuts, but that was 20 years ago and we've cleaned it several times since then, but if you are REALLY sensitive to peanuts, then don't eat this, and if you do eat this, then don't sue us!

This is why I often argue with people who say things like "we should just terraform Mars". Step one, I guess, would be to start burning coal there and then wait a couple hundred years (except Mars already has lots of CO2, what it is missing is Oxygen (and more gravity). If we could get plants going there, and if it were capable of retaining an atmosphere as dense as ours (which it isn't because f its low gravity), I wonder how long it would take an Amazon rain forest on Mars to produce enough oxygen to sustain us. Quite a while I'm pretty sure.

Anyway, when the members of the Church of Global Warming (a modern day offshoot of the Luddites) come knocking on my door (hopefully having ridden in on bicycles while being sure not to exhale) I'm going to be a bit skeptical about taking any of their pamphlets.

When Al Gore flys in on a jet to give a PowerPoint presentation, I'll just keep laughing.

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