Sunday, October 12, 2008

There's More Where That Came From

If you were a sheep and you were in Australia and you'd been thinking about what would go with those nice plastic trousers you had heard that you were getting, I hate to disappoint you but you're not getting any pants. What? That's right. No pants. No pants for the sheep. The sheep will not wear pants. Now, that's really supposed to be more of a 'rule' and less of an 'announcement', but in this case, semi-sadly, it's an announcement. And it's straight from those Australian scientists who have abandoned plastic plants for sheep in favor of gas masks. Wait. What?

I do believe I'm a bit ahead of myself here. Allow me to retreat just a tad. See, if you believe a whole lot of scientists (and Al Gore) the Earth is gradually getting hotter. The globe, it is a-warmin'. Hence the term "global warming". (Have you seen Al Gore lately? He's undergone a bit of global expansion since his Veep days. He's packing enough insulation these days to keep his globe plenty warm.) Global warming is bad. Scientists (except the mad ones) are good. We're still not sure what Al Gore is. But the point is, the good scientists are trying to figure out what we can do about global warming and how to slow it down or stop it. In order to do so, they first have to look to the sources of what warms the earth. (Sources other than Al Gorge Gore.)

Greenhouse gases (presumedly the gases that turn the earth warmer and make it like a "greenhouse") are bad for the environment. Methane is a greenhouse gas. Methane is bad for the environment. Sheep emit methane from both ends. The question is how much methane do sheep release from their woolly little bodies? That will help determine if there is a particular breed of sheep that emits more methane than other breeds. It will also help determine if a sheep's diet influences their methane production. (See, I don't get that part. The sheep's diet is whatever is in the field. It's field food. They're field food feeders. Isn't grass just grass no matter how you chew it? It would be a lot easier if you knew which sheep were the ones going out for Indian food every other night, wouldn't it? I'm sure that would narrow down the culprits to a conspicuous group.)

Well since methane is a gas, you have to capture it. You can't just put it in your pocket and walk home with it (thank God). It needs a container. What scientists had been doing (because they're so scientific-y and all) it putting plastic plants on the sheep and measuring the exit emissions that way. Turns out however, "that only about 2 per cent of sheep methane emissions came from their rear." That according to a one Professor James Rowe as quoted by our mates down under at So instead they're just going to put a mask over the sheep's face and measure the methane that way (of course they are.) because, according to Professor Rowe, "Putting plastic trousers on sheep is much more difficult than holding a mask there for a minute or so." Yes. I should think so. Actually, putting ANY kind of clothing on a sheep, aside from being just plain wrong, would in fact be quite difficult.

You may or may not remember the poor cows who were having their methane measured and were being forced to sport these fancy tanks for a while there. Behold! Tank Cow!

Well, ain't that sporty? Naturally, after seeing the cow with his butt backpack there, I had visions of the poor sheep looking something like...Behold! My twisted vision of sheep having their methane measured:

(Yes, I know it's frightening. Just try being in my head for a little while. It's not always that pleasant!) But fortunately, the scientists are a little more balanced than I am (there's a sentence I never thought I'd say) and they had a better way of capturing that methane-y sheep breath in a way so that "The animal is not in any distress ... they don't really object to it." I'll be the judge of that...Behold!

Huh. Maybe he's right. That doesn't look too bad. (The sheep has a much better deal than the poor cow did.) It kind of looks like a breathalyzer for sheep. (I wonder if they'll have them walk a straight line when they're done.) The thing is that down in Australia, they have a lot of sheep and they have a lot of kangaroos. Turns out that kangaroos don't emit very much methane at all regardless of diet. Now, some schools of thought down there say that if people would just eat more kangaroo and less sheep, that they could reduce the number of sheep needed and increase the number of kangaroos needed. (I know how they would do one of those, but I'm not sure about the other. Kangaroo orgy, perhaps? I don't even want to think about it. All of those sexed up marsupials...hopping all over the place on top of each would be madness!) The thing is, people don't want to eat kangaroo. The kangaroo meat that is available now? Yeah, most people that buy it feed it to their pets. Oh, yum! That'd be like if George W. told the US, "Less McDonald's, more ALPO!"

But if they can figure out how to cut the sheep's methane emissions, then it's a win-win all the way around. The earth is helped, kangaroo meat doesn't become dinnertime sustenance and the people can eat the sheep again. (Hmmm. OK, I guess it's not win-win for the sheep. They seem to kind of be getting screwed in the end here, but even if that's true, at least there won't be a lot of methane when it's happening!) And that's why the scientists are giving all of the sheep these little methane breathalyzer tests. It's probably a good thing, too. Professor Rowe doesn't seem to think that breeding kangaroos to take the place of sheep is all that feasible of an idea. "Have you tried to muster kangaroos?" he asked. I have not. However, judging from his tone, it wouldn't be a scenario all that far from the one that I described above. Not far all at.

I have no idea how they measure their Flask o' Flatulence when they've collected their sample, nor do I don't know what they do with it when they're done. I can only assume (and really, really hope) that both processes do not take place near an open flame.

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