Letters

Monday, October 01, 2001

 

Cow Parts
Thank you for the chilling article about how various industries use the body parts left after cows are slaughtered for food ("Cow Parts," August). Those readers appalled at how pervasive this practice is might be interested to learn they can limit their exposure.

Many cosmetic and household product manufacturers offer items free of any animal products. These cow-free and therefore cruelty-free products are often also easier on the environment. Anyone concerned with the risks of mad cow and the nightmarish conditions of today's factory farms would do well to look for a "no animal products" or "vegan" label before they buy.

Consumers have the power to change the marketplace. Even one built on cow parts.

Ms. Simon Chaitowitz
Washington, D.C.

Greenhouse Effect, R.I.P.
Your Future Tech article ["Greenhouse Effect, R.I.P.," August] impelled me to do some math using the following assumptions: 1) Carbon dioxide sequestration in the ocean will increase exponentially, according to your timetable; and 2) the world's population will "magically" stabilize in 2050, but per capita fossil-fuel use will continue to grow, also exponentially, at current rates. The results: 1) Carbon dioxide discharge into the atmosphere would maximize in 2052 at nearly 19 billion tons per year; 2) the sequestration of CO2 would not exceed its discharge until 2088, at which time there would be 2 trillion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, nearly two and a half times the current level; and 3) CO2 levels wouldn't return to their current levels until 2116, meaning over 100 years of global warming even more intense than that we are currently experiencing.

I also calculated the depletion rate of fossil fuels, assuming that the current 8 billion tons discharged into the atmosphere represents the total loss per year of this resource (possibly overly optimistic). The result: We run out of fossil fuels in 2205.

Given the potential adverse consequences of global warming and eventual loss of our biggest energy source, it obviously makes sense to put more effort into fuel conservation and pollution control, not to mention population control. Alternative energy sources must also be developed. It is highly regrettable that the United States is acting like a rogue nation in reference to the Kyoto accord; far better should be expected of the "last, best hope of mankind." Sure, it might be tough on business to change the way we do things, but will it be good for business if the western Antarctic ice shelf falls off and sea level rises 20 feet instantaneously?

John T. Jameson
Salinas, California

When Neil Savage asserts there are only three other options [to get rid of carbon dioxide emissions], he is only showing the limits of his imagination. There is a fourth one.

I propose putting the horse before the cart. Instead of sequestering carbon dioxide after it is emitted by cars and power plants, grab it from the air and reduce it to hydrocarbon fuels for us to use. Burning the hydrocarbons is then just recycling and adds no new CO2 to the air.

No idea in science is truly new. My proposal builds on some 1970s work by Nobelist Melvin Calvin. He found an interesting shrub in the Brazilian rain forest related to the rubber tree. Instead of producing high-molecular-weight polyisoprene, it produced trimers. Calvin tapped the plant to produce a latex. He then broke the emulsion, separated the organic and water layers, dried the organic layer, and finally poured the liquid hydrocarbon into the fuel tank of a diesel-powered car and drove off. No refining necessary! This plant produced high-grade diesel fuel.

Calvin correctly realized there was not enough rain forest land to grow commercial quantities of this plant. Using only selective breeding, he tried to adapt the plant to grow in the desert. His efforts failed, and the project died. Calvin didn't have today's genetic engineering tools. We should use them to bring his vision to reality. I propose that a genetically engineered fuel-plant can solve our energy crisis.

Frank Weigert
Wilmington, Delaware

Even with fuel-efficient vehicles and low-emission power, other human activities such as deforestation, cattle growing, and suburban sprawl can cause increases in methane and carbon dioxide. The burial idea needs to be pushed further. Note that water injection in oil and gas fields is used to prolong their productive lives. Perhaps CO2 (even in gaseous form) could do the job too.

William McDill
Columbia, Maryland

The Unbearably Unstoppable Neutrino
"The Unbearably Unstoppable Neutrino" [August] says that neutrinos travel at less than the speed of light and have dome mass. Accordingly, they must respond to the law of mass attraction and bend in flight when passing a massive object. So, a ball of heavy metal should bend all grazing neutrinos toward a single focal spot. A detector located there would have a better chance of "seeing" the elusive rascals. Many such gravitational lens-detector combinations might produce more hits than the present brute-force method.

Dwin R. Craig
Frederick, Maryland

Art, music, poetry, and sports all have direct, demonstrable, observable effects on people and accordingly are worthwhile. The study of neutrinos, like the study of deep space, will most likely have no direct effect on humankind prior to our extinction. "So why do we do it?" asks Art McDonald. That's a no-brainer, Art. It gets done because a misaligned system has lost track of priorities, making it possible for someone to make big bucks tinkering with high-tech toys instead of channeling those resources toward more useful endeavors. So many exceptionally bright people spending so much time and money on things of no real benefit is such a terrible, terrible waste. I'm sure that the majority of this planet's population would agree.

Mark Wunderlich
Saint Meinrad, Indiana

R & D
The quote by Sir William Osler ["The desire to take medicine is perhaps the greatest feature which distinguishes man from animals," R&D, August] may be provocative, but it is not accurate. I'm sure you could find an animal behaviorist to write an interesting article about how animals will take "medicines" when they are ill (i.e., how some animals will seek out particular plants to eat just for their medicinal value).

Dan Cornett
via the Internet

Corey Powell, news editor, responds: We present quotes as subjective opinions, of course. But your letter raises an interesting point. The term medicine connotes a cure taken intentionally. Many animals presumably are guided to healthy foods by instinct alone. But with the discovery of various kinds of culture among chimpanzees have come reports that these animals sometimes appear to make deliberate choices to eat curative plants. Whether or not this counts as using medicine is still open to debate.

In "They Invented It When?" [R&D, August], you mention that Electrolux is working on a robotic vacuum. Such a product is already on the market from Dyson, the leading U.K. vacuum-cleaner company, which appeared in the early 1990s and pioneered the bagless vacuum cleaner. More information on the robotic DC06 can be found on dc06.dyson.com. Information on Dyson's other products can be found at www.dyson.com.

Jon Stern
Laguna Beach, California

Next Page
1 of 2
Comment on this article
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
DSCJulyAugCover
+

Log in to your account

X
Email address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it emailed to you.

Not registered yet?

Register now for FREE. It takes only a few seconds to complete. Register now »