UN panel: Cows emit more greenhouse gases than cars

A panel convened at the United Nations yesterday to discuss what the IT industry could do to better the environment, nearly came to the conclusion its practitioners could do more by changing their lifestyle...for instance, how they eat.

UNITED NATIONS (BetaNews) - After quite some time had passed, and panelists had issued what could be described as ordinary platitudes on the subject of corporate environmental policy -- essentially, "We can all do more," -- the executive director of the Society for Information Management, Judy Arteche-Carr, offered an invigorating bit of context to the discussion.

Among the world's chief contributors to the global carbon emissions problem, Arteche-Carr cited using data sanctioned by the UN, the number three pollutant worldwide comes from transportation: cars, trains, ships. Number two is the world's factories and manufacturing infrastructure, and the IT industry may have greater influence there than with transportation.

But it's the number one global carbon emitter that had everyone floored: livestock. "It comes as a shock," Arteche-Carr said, perhaps understating the fact.

From there, she suggested that attendees could have greater influence on their planet's environment by changing some of their personal habits - the way they live, the way they go from place to place, and the way they eat. And they could do even more by being a positive influence on their children.

Kids tend to be more aware of the so-called "green revolution" than their parents, she told the audience, and may thus be more involved in the global environmental movement than the previous generation. If parents did more to listen to their children -- or, perhaps more accurately, to what they hear from school, TV, and Internet advertising -- parents themselves could be influenced.

Influenced to do what, exactly, wasn't clear -- the possibility of everyone dropping their hamburgers and declaring themselves vegetarians was not discussed.

However, a UN representative did toss out some intriguing ideas after all: Kathleen Abdalla, a chief with the Division for Sustainable Developments at the UN Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), wondered aloud why the IT community hasn't done more to improve energy transfers on the world's grids. Better load management techniques -- achievable with something as simple as improved algorithms -- could go a long way toward safeguarding the environment, Abdalla said, especially since decaying infrastructure in certain parts of the world has led to leakage in its energy grids.

Applying the concept of better networking -- load balancing, task distribution, and the other techniques honed in the world's IT back-offices -- could be applied to non-informational networks as well, Abdalla suggested. Power grids are just one example; irrigation systems are another, as well as other crop control systems used by the world's agricultural giants. Better networking control in these departments could produce better yields, she suggested.

Which could result in more vegetables, which could in turn address problem #1 after all: that what comes out of cows contributes more to the global warming problem than what comes out of cars.

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