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Banana’s Carbon Footprint and Fracking Hazards

• Did you ever wonder about the carbon footprint of a plastic bag? How about a space shuttle flight? Author M. Berners-Lee can tell you. He has carefully calculated how much carbon is added to the atmosphere for a given product or action. To arrive at his figures, he includes everything from manufacturing and transportation of the item to carbon release during extraction of raw materials. Surprisingly, he found that the carbon footprint for producing a paper bag is two to four times greater than for a plastic bag of comparable size. Other findings: the carbon footprint of one banana is 0.2 pounds; buying and using a computer releases about a half pound of carbon; flying from Los Angeles to Barcelona and back produces 4.6 tons of carbon; and a space shuttle flight has a footprint of 4,600 tons of carbon dioxide. In the future, it’s likely that much more attention will be paid to the carbon footprints of what we buy and do. (“How Bad Are Bananas – The Carbon Footprint of Everything,” by M. Berners-Lee, Green Profile Press, 2010; Sierra Magazine, July/August, 2011)

• The ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus), a migrant to our area from South and Central America, builds a unique nest. Both male and female participate in building a nest from mud, strengthened with grass and fiber. After the mud mixture hardens in the sun, the nest looks like a miniature Dutch oven, hence the bird’s name. The bird’s “oven” often has a curved entrance and an interior that the female lines with grass and feathers before she deposits 3 to 5 white eggs. This small bird spends much of its time foraging around the forest floor. Its loud call sounds like “teacher, teacher, teacher,” according to some ornithologists. (Cornell Univ. Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org)

• Squirrels, birds, and other vertebrate species often use tree cavities for shelter and nesting. A group of researchers studied the origins of these cavities and found that most in Europe and South America were created by decay. In North America, however, they found that woodpeckers were responsible for most functional cavities. In Door County, it appears that woodpeckers have done an outstanding job of providing housing for other vertebrates. (Science, June 17, 2911; Cockle et al, Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, vol. 9, 2011)

• The word “fracking” sounds as if it refers to a college fraternity initiation rite. It doesn’t, but we are likely to be reading more and more about fracking as a means of satisfying our energy demands. Trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are trapped deep in rock formations, especially formations involving layers of shale. Fracking is a technique used to blast open the shale and release the trapped gas. It involves drilling bore holes up to a mile or more deep into the shale, then using high pressure pumps to force chemical-laced water into steel pipes lining the holes. When the water is pumped out, the released gas rises in the pipe and is captured. The good news is that natural gas and methane can be captured this way, but there is a lot of bad news that accompanies fracking. For one thing, it can and does contaminate drinking water in nearby homes. It also uses vast amounts of water that contain chemicals that can cause illness, it greatly diminishes air quality in the area of drilling, and it can cause nearby homes to become infiltrated with enough flammable methane to create a fire hazard. Several affluent communities in Texas were abandoned because of health hazards resulting from fracking operations. In another case, fracking within a mile of a school sickened children, who complained of nosebleeds, dizziness, and nausea. It seems that there’s a dark side to all of our efforts to extract and utilize energy-rich reserves from the earth. It would be reassuring if renewal or even conservation of resources received as much emphasis as how to get more coal, oil, and natural gas out of the ground. (“Fracking Nation,” in Discover, May, 2011)