Brendan I. Koerner discusses greenhouse gases and other environmental concerns.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Nov. 29 2007 5:09 PM

Gassed Up

Environmental columnist Brendan I. Koerner takes readers' questions on greenhouse pollutants and other concerns.

Brendan I. Koerner, Slate's Green Lantern columnist, was online at Washingtpost.com on Thursday, Nov. 29, to discuss the harm of the " other greenhouse gases" plus whatever environmental questions readers had. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.

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Brendan Koerner: I think a big part of the problem is that environmentalism is such a new political issue, so it's not a priority when it comes to hiring top-level campaign advisers. But I also think it's because the candidates are underestimating the sophistication of voters when it comes to energy issues. Week in, week out, I'm blown away by the depth and complexity of the energy-related questions I get from readers—people really seem to understand, for example, ethanol's shortcomings, and the pros and cons of flex-fuel vehicles. How can we get them to acknowledge that we deserve more complex answers and proposals? Hmmmm...anyone want to volunteer to ask a really good YouTube question for the next debate?

(Also, keep in mind that the current administration has been, uh, somewhat secretive about its energy policy.)

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Richmond, Va.: Out of curiosity, what kind of car do you drive daily? And do you have an energy-efficient home?

Brendan Koerner: Thanks for the question. I actually live in NYC, so don't currently own a car—I roll the train. I also live in a typically small apartment with steam heat and only one air conditioner. On the other hand, I'll confess that I made too few efforts to be "green" in my daily life—shortcomings that I've tried to be honest about in the column (e.g. confessing that I personally haven't been using canvas bags). I'm the farthest thing from an environmental angel—just another concerned bloke trying to make heads to tails of an avalanche of information.

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I read how skyline drive was constructed—a govenrment program for people who needed help in the depression, who went and worked and got paid and did great things. but the current administration and Rush Limbaugh never would allow it, and would call that socialism.

Brendan Koerner: Er, yeah, can't see any WPA-style proposals going too far nowadays.

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Waterloo, Iowa: How much recycling does The Washington Post do of office products, and how much of the paper is printed on recycled material? Do you recycle all the papers that are not sold, or leave them at newsstands for the couriers to dispose of?

washingtonpost.com: I can only speak for washingtonpost.com, but we have extensive in-house newsprint, office paper and aluminum can recycling programs. Most newspapers operate efficient printing presses nowadays as well—soy-based inks, recycling water, silver from negatives, etc. Here's some bare-bones information from The Post's corporate Web site.

Brendan Koerner: Since Slate's all online, we're more paper-free than their "dead-tree" comrades at the Post. Personally, I don't print anything out—haven't had an in-house printer at my home office for years. Actually made the move to cut down on clutter more than waste; it was weird at first, but now I can't imagine spending money on ink cartridges ever again.

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Freising, Germany: Regarding methane and CO2, in absolute terms, how much does each contribute to global warming in percent? Also, if the permafrost in Canada, Alaska and Siberia melts and sets free methane, does that ensure the end of the arctic ice caps and glaciers?

Brendan Koerner: You ask a very complex question re: absolutism about CO2 vs. CH4 contributions to global warming. I tried to get a straight answer on this while reporting the methane column, but got lots of hemming and hawing from some fine scientific minds. So I don't think there's a definitive answer beyond what I offered in the column; I will say, however, that CO2 is far more worrying because of its longer atmospheric lifetime combined with the sheer amount of the stuff being pumped into the air by virtue of fossil-fuel combustion.

I share your concerns regarding the release of methane from melting permafrost. It's a nasty feedback loop, and it will doubtless contribute to the decline of the Arctic. Yet another reason not to delay in tackling our current—and woresening—environmental woes.

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Brendan Koerner: Thanks a million to everyone who sat in and asked great questions. Hope to catch y'all again soon. Be sure to check out "The Green Lantern" on Slate every Tuesday, and pay a visit to my website: www.youthrobber.com. Have a good one...

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