Posts by Bart Janssen

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  • Hard News: The Language of Climate,

    For those abandoning air travel perhaps it might be worth considering the cultural and social value of travel. One of the reasons NZ is open to new ideas at all is because a significant proportion of the population have traveled and actually seen for themselves that people do things differently elsewhere.

    We have a culture of acceptance of the different because many people have seen that different can also be just as good. I'd hate to see us lose that.

    As for business travel, there are just times when real face to face makes enough of a difference to be worthwhile. Yeah there is wasted travel, particularly in the upper management zones, but most businesses view travel as a cost they can minimize.

    Perhaps a better approach to the problem of air travel is to develop alternatives. Airships have potential but they aren't as fast, which for some purposes is just fine. Sea travel really is too slow for most human interactions, but it's worth noting that all mail is now delivered by air, which is convenient sure, but is also wasteful. There have been huge changes in aircraft engines, particularly around noise, perhaps a stronger focus on fuel efficiency could see a whole other class of aircraft that were even more fuel efficient.

    With more options perhaps you could choose to take a 12 hour (efficient) flight to Melbourne, heck the travel day is usually a write off anyway.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate,

    Just thought I should add this link from AgResearch to some of the work going on already to reduce methane emissions from ruminants. The pdfs are short summaries and give you an idea of what is already happening.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate, in reply to Che Tibby,

    bart, what’s the need for lowering the methane output of ruminants? my layperson’s understanding says that as long as you’re not introducing fossil-carbon to the feed end then the back end is “carbon neutral”

    Your lay person's understanding is quite right (but see below) CO2 to plants to cows to CH4 is carbon neutral.


    CH4 is about 20 times stronger as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so it is not climate change neutral.

    That's the first problem, the second problem is New Zealand specific because most of our greenhouse gas emissions are methane and since a big chunk of our export economy depends on ruminants we are faced with a very specific challenge.

    The final problem is that it isn't quite carbon neutral. That's because the way we farm depends on fertiliser which requires energy input and that is usually fossil fuel energy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate, in reply to JWT1,

    Rumen bacteria produce methane as an end product because of the highly reducing (anaerobic) environment in the rumen.

    A lot of what happens in the rumen does not involve methane producing bacteria. Nor is it clear you must have methane producing bacteria to do those things. Simply having an anaerobic environment does not necessitate the production of methane and a huge amount goes on in the rumen without methane production. I'd be really surprised if you couldn't alter the rumen bacteria to reduce (if not eliminate) methane production.

    But I don't for a second think it is an easy project nor one guaranteed of success.

    On the plant side alone I know very well that changing the metabolism to make more digestible carbohydrates is hard and likely to have unexpected consequences that will need to be thoroughly examined before you get to a viable product.

    But Russell asked if it was feasible and I think it is, just perhaps not quickly and definitely not without a serious commitment to the effort.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate, in reply to BenWilson,

    Then the research could be conducted to the ridiculously high biosecurity standards we already have?

    No the problem is the ridiculously high biosecurity we operate under makes it too hard to even do the research properly any more. We regulate everything, even things that have been used safely for 40 years and we are threatened with closure if we fail to keep records of everything.

    At present compliance (not safety) is adding a huge cost in time and money to any research – if we seriously wanted to make cows stop burping methane we couldn’t even do the research here with current regulations and the interpretation of those.

    That is NOT the fault of those doing the enforcement they are simply doing what they’ve been told to do. It needs new legislation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate, in reply to Russell Brown,

    How real is that right now, Bart?

    There are a few different answers to that question.

    The most optimistic is that yes it is totally feasible, just not right now, it would take a few years effort.

    Sorry, long post follows ...

    It would require a few things to happen. First we'd need to change our regulatory system to make the research feasible, at present the regulations and the enforcement of those regulations would make the research almost impossible to do. That is eminently doable and without any risk at all.

    Then we'd have to set aside enough money to make the project run, something like a National Science Challenge but funded fully. No pissing around with half arsed measures, as a wild guess I'd say $5 million a year for the first 3 years and then increasing to maybe $10-20 million a year for a decade after that. Hopefully towards the end of that industry would stump up some of that money.

    That funding probably wouldn't cover all of the cost but I'd expect satellite projects to develop around the challenge as you went along.

    Then you have to actually do the science. Bear in mind that we haven't actually tried anything like this yet so we don't know what would work and what won't work (that's what the research money is for). That said my guess (wild and speculative as it is) is that you'd want to engineer both the bacteria in the cow rumin and also engineer the grass. Yes GMOs, get over it.

    You'd want to reduce the compounds in grass that are hard to digest, which is metabolic engineering and full of surprises. With a dedicated effort it is certainly possible. You'd have to make sure the grass still grows as well in the field but that is probably all doable.

    We know a lot about ryegrass in this country so we wouldn't be starting from scratch but this is not something that would be easy - but it wouldn't be so much fun if it was easy.

    You'd also want to see if some of the bacteria in the animal rumin can be altered to either make less methane or take the methane and turn it into something the cow can process. I know much less about the feasibility of that part but my gut feeling is that the balance of bacteria in the rumin might be quite hard to alter. That said lots of folks believe they alter their own gut bacteria with a simple dose of brewers yeast :). Seriously a lot of testing would be needed.

    Then you'd have to say to everyone in NZ that yes we are going to grow GM grass here and we are going to grow GM cows here - because we believe that the incredibly low risk from GM is more than balanced by the improvement to the environment by eliminating methane.

    Yeah doable. But it would take a huge amount of spine on the part of the legislators to change the laws and some considerable guts to commit the funding. On a cynical day I'd say it would be totally ruined by all the hangers on who would steal the money from the science, on an optimistic day I'd say it would be something great we could do for our economy and the world and we wouldn't let anything stop us.

    Oh and as a final note - in the process of doing this we'd become the world's experts at this kind of engineering - countries would come to us to figure out how to use biological engineering to solve major problems - our kids would see the scientists doing this and all want to be a part of it, lifting the talent and skills of the next generation. So um yeah can we please let our imaginations really stretch and do this?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate,

    the people with real money to lose ... are taking account of those changes

    I don't think it's that straightforward. There is a huge amount of change involved in dealing with climate change and most of that change occurs in the business world. It is a fact that implementing a sensible response to climate change will cause significant financial loss to many businesses. For those in those businesses delaying that loss by even a short period of time can mean millions in profit.

    There are also huge opportunities for gain, but those gains will be made by somebody else.

    Our problem in NZ is that interests that stand to lose seem to hold great sway with the National Party. The other problem is that we only focus on possible losses eg limiting dairying. That leaves possible gains ignored.

    In short, technology will dramatically change worldwide as a result of climate change, that creates huge opportunities for new ways of doing things and selling those methods around the world. By denying climate change we stifle that opportunity. We are so focused on minimising loss that we are ignoring the opportunity to shift from a primary produce economy to a technologically advanced economy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Gower Speaks, in reply to George Darroch,

    There are a number of ways to explain this discrepancy.

    Most New Zealanders want Labour to form a coalition government

    But most New Zealanders expect Labour to do something so utterly compellingly stupid before the election that they will fail to win

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Feed: Saints Preserve, in reply to Richard Aston,

    The only decent crop it has had was in 2011 when the sewerage failures meant three males were peeing around it for months.

    That’s how I restored a failing lemon tree , lemon trees it seems just loved to be pissed on. Same for orchids.

    Urea is basically nitrogen fertiliser.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Gower Speaks, in reply to David Hood,

    you kind of need two, side by side

    But TV is not a static medium, you aren't limited to a graph that is fixed. You could have some seats fixed red blue green or purple and some that flick between colours slowly or rapidly depending on uncertainty or something much cleverer with a 3D component.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3107 posts Report Reply

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