Friday, April 17, 2009

Should the U.S. Ban Charcoal Grills?

In response to my post about carbon soot and global warming, Kilroy wrote to ask, "wouldn’t it helpful if the U.S. banned the use of charcoal?" Here's his point:
Our environment gets slammed twice. Once during the manufacturing of charcoal or rather how wood is burned during process and then again when the consumer uses it. The folks in the villages use their stoves as a means of survival and we use our BBQ grills for pleasure.
Throw in the petroleum based lighter fluid, and what do you have? "Triple threat to the environment."
Let's try an order of magnitude estimate, starting with the U.S. and India.
U.S.: 100 million households x 25 percent charcoal grill ownership x .5 frequency of use (once a week for half of the year) = 650 million charcoal fires a year
India: 250 million households x 75 percent cook stove ownership x 7 fires per week = 68 billion fires per year
The U.S. use is just 1 percent of India's. Add the rest of Asia and Africa, and that figure would shrink to well under 0.5%.
If cook stoves cause 18% of global warming, then charcoal fires in the U.S. would cause less than 0.1%. Throw in Kilroy's "triple threat" of charcoal and lighter fluid production, and that figure might increase slightly.
So the net reduction of banning charcoal grills would be relatively small, and all out of proportion to the furor (Al Gore wants to take away my barbeque!) such a ban would create.
Last year I wrote about
the environmental impact of meat, highlighting a New York Times piece that noted, "2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles." So a barbeque might be roughly equivalent to the trip to the beach.
But backyard barbeques and trips to the beach make up a relatively small portion of our carbon footprint. Our lengthening daily commutes and daily visits to MacDonalds have a far great impact.
And as for Kilroy's evocation of the guilt factor (survival versus pleasure), I'm not that interested. I don't think guilt is much of a motivator for environmental change; the boys driving their Hummers already got over that. In my view, making people fell bad is not a winning strategy.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Kilroy said...

Lol , didn’t mean to make it a full blown debate. However, I doubt you factored in the environmental impact of the manufacturing process of charcoal.

Found this on the web;
“ Basic charcoal is produced by burning a carbon-rich material such as wood in a low-oxygen atmosphere. This process drives off the moisture and volatile gases that were present in the original fuel. The resulting charred material not only burns longer and more steadily than whole wood, but it is much lighter (one-fifth to one-third of its original weight).”

found this on the web;
“In the proposed consent decree, filed by the Justice Department on behalf of EPA, Kingsford has agreed to pay a $900,000 civil penalty to settle the government’s March 5, 1998 complaint that the company violated federally-enforceable state regulations limiting particulate emissions. According to the complaint, discharges from the two stacks of the incinerator at the plant’s charcoal furnace exceeded the hourly limit on particulate matter emissions on a nearly continuous basis.”

What impact does the harvesting of trees in the rainforest for manufacturing charcoal have on the environment?

I agree 100% we need to save mother Earth but we in American raped our environment and continue to do so and now want to educate the world on the ills of pollution. It’s like asking a full blown drunk to teach AA meetings.

Honestly I switch from using a charcoal grill because of the environmental impact.

Your data may be skewed because if those with cook stoves in these countries are using raw wood not charcoal you bypassed the environmental impact of the charcoal manufacturing process.

I am not trying to bust your chops but just looking at the entire picture. We use charcoal for more to satisfy our pleasures as we have the “convenient” alternative means. But, in all fairness we must have to look at the production and manufacturing environmental impact of delivery of those alternative products.

Sure we can do our best to reverse global warming but the writing is on the wall and our fate is sealed. Mother Earth will purge us from herself. The only break we gave Earth in the positive environmental impact of the world recession as the factories have slowed down production and pollution fallout. Then again if Yellowstone blows I am sure we’ll feel the cooling effect.

11:30 AM, April 17, 2009  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

I'm not looking for a big debate either; I just thought it would be interesting to calculate the magnitude of the effect.

I'm not arguing that charcoal isn't a wasteful technology. I just don't think it's a significant large scale contributor to global warming.

Good for you for switching to gas; based on a perusal of the grills for sale at the hardware store, lots of Americans have.

12:13 PM, April 17, 2009  
Anonymous Kilroy said...

TommyWonk said
"I just don't think it's a significant large scale contributor to global warming."

All is well no personal debating here. I had to start thinking as how many millions of charcoal BBQs will be burnign during the summer. I was joking when I mentioned solar powered electric BBQ's but went online looking for one.

I think if we really care about global warming as a civilization we should reduce all no essential waste as charcoal grills are. Fires have been burning on Earth since day one and we do tend to forget some of the developing countries are still in the Stone Age. Though those cook stoves are harmful however we’re asking primitive people to change their way because the developed countries screwed the environment up. These poor people scrounge around for wood and we want to modernize them which would be a cost to them. If we converted all those people to natural gas I wonder how that would impact supply and demand of natural gas.

The reality is the governments of the world have the responsibility to participate in fight global warming and the poor countries will say sure we can do that but we need aid.

At best we can try to slow down the demise of mankind brought on by their own ignorance but I can only imagine what life on Earth will look like in 1000 years. I do suspect a major event like a meteor hitting the earth that will help cool earth!

We are just a speck of dust in the universe and a grain of sand it the hour glass of time all destine to run it's course. If we can save Delaware we surely can't save the world.

Not trying to sound like Mr. Doomesday but man is a freak of nature who has the common sense and intelligence and knowingly destroys the environment that sustains his existence.

It's too bad Carl Sagan ins't with us anymore, maybe the world would listen to him.

3:38 PM, April 17, 2009  
Anonymous LiberalGeek said...

I wonder if the effects of CO2 in a gas grill outweigh the soot impact of charcoal (at least on the small scale in the US). Certainly, charcoal releases CO2, but it was simply stored in the wood. The impact of taking a source of CO2 that was buried underground for millennia and releasing it.

5:07 PM, April 21, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charcoal exhaust is nauseating. I live in a condo complex. I have to seal my place up tight when someone upwind lights their charcoal grill.

I am definitely in favor of banning charcoal. These things are pyres of partially combusted hydrocarbons. Too much heat energy is wasted compared to on/off propane.

Ghastly.

7:12 PM, June 19, 2010  

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