Buried deep in the archives of The New York Times is an article about termites. We have a hate-love relationship with the little creatures. We hate them because they can turn a house constructed from wood into saw dust without a homeowner ever knowing it.
Watch a show like “Flip or Flop” on HGTV. It seems like Tarek and Christina El Moussa are always buying homes that have extensive termite damage. There’s an entire industry devoted to killing termites and insuring that they don’t return to wreck havoc on our homes.
We love them because they turn discarded wood products into compost, enriching the soil. If there were no termites we would be living in a forest of dead trees all around us.
A fundamental law is that nothing is ever destroyed. When termites consume wood and vegetable matter, they turn it into energy, heat, and gaseous byproducts like carbon dioxide and methane – dreaded greenhouse gases.
They are by definition some of the biggest polluters on the planet.
The following is from a 1982 New York Times article “Termite Gas Exceeds Smokestack Pollution”:
“For several years scientists have been warning that carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by increased burning of fuel is likely to alter world climates, like a greenhouse, by inhibiting the escape of heat into outer space.
“Now researchers report that termites, digesting vegetable matter on a global basis, produce more than twice as much carbon dioxide as all the world’s smokestacks.
“Termite gas production has become particularly high, the researchers say, because widespread clearing of land has offered them abundant food in the debris of felled forests. By digesting this debris, they are adding not only carbon dioxide but also methane to the atmosphere. Other researchers have found that methane in the atmosphere is increasing 2 percent a year.
“The high level of termite gas production is reported in the Nov. 5 issue of the journal Science. The authors measured termite gas production inside laboratory jars. In Guatemala forests, they enclosed a huge arboreal termite nest in a Teflon bag to confirm that the insects were prolific producers of methane.”
Termite “polluters” are only one source of such gases. Every living creature emits carbon dioxide and methane — even humans. Then there are the cows that are constantly belching and passing gas.
Some cows are now wearing back packs — “fartpacks” — to capture their emissions.
Let’s not forget volcanoes.
“Another author of the report, Patrick R. Zimmerman of the atmospheric center in Boulder, said that plant respiration and decay added 10 to 15 times as much carbon dioxide to the air as termites.”
Let’s not let the EPA find this 32-year article. It might get them thinking on how much more they can regulate our world into oblivion.