Adventures in Climate Change: Go where the Gas is

It is true that I got the privilege of seeing the world when I worked with climate change emission reduction projects (see posts here, here and here), but most of this work was done at landfills. It wasn’t all exotic locations where a bunch of professionals, grassroots organisations and public servants got together for a jolly (read: conferences), but rather, it was exotic locations where hard-working people got together to hold their breaths.

The idea behind the carbon markets is that you have to stop the invisible greenhouse gases from escaping. So, first you find the gas and then you plug it, burn it, bury it – whatever works. That’s what led me to landfills. To be clear, we’re talking about the big pit where all of human’s garbage gets dumped. Where the seagulls go to party. And because that stuff includes food scraps, Aunt Jane’s dead petunias, little Jimmy’s essay on paper, used tea bags, etc – it generates gas! So the first part of the job is solved.

Part of my job was to go see these sites and nod wisely as if it was a premium landfill! An excellent landfill! With just the right mix of organic and wet material to generate maximum gas (which could then be captured or burnt). Do you know how hard it is to nod wisely when walking by decomposing animals? (By the way, you actually don’t want large animals in the landfill because they decompose too quickly and then leave nothing behind to generate more gas – fyi) The problem is that as you walk up hill (landfills are wide and tall), you exert yourself, causing you to breathe more heavily, meaning you smell worse things, causing you to walk uphill faster, causing you to breathe more heavily….you see where I’m goin’ with this?

I know waste management has come a long way and landfill technology is very advanced and the reclamation techniques do wonders for land regeneration. But whoever thought that having an agave plantation within spitting distance from the landfill wasn’t thinking about his marketing. “Liquor do rubbish” anyone? And the cafeteria should really be sited upwind from the main operations. Of course, once the land is reclaimed, it’s usually beautiful. One landfill had their own forestry nursery for baby trees (so cute) and another had a collection of native plant species they were planning to use after (why can’t I find a job where I get to see the pretty things??) and the management was justifiably proud of these efforts.

So, anyway, now that you’ve found the gas, you need to plug is or burn it and once that’s done, I get to visit again to make sure all the documentation is in place. That part of the job isn’t bad really. It’s an audit, but rather than an audit that tries to find what’s wrong in order to fix it, it’s an audit to prove something went right and you get paid. So, most people liked to see me. However, I really wish they wouldn’t keep things from me even though I’m usually the only girl on the team and they all seem to think I’m delicate (ha, ask my friends about that one!). If a decapitated head is found in the landfill, I’d really like to know about it; if terrorists generally keep an eye on public gatherings like our info sessions this is also a good thing to know; and if rabid dogs are running loose a warning is entirely appropriate. I consider these things along the same lines of information need-to-know as knowing to bring a chocolate cake when asking a government official for a signature because it is her birthday. Because our projects are always based in emerging markets, these types of quirks were often part of the landscape.

However, as I mentioned in another post, the climate change industry is a tricky one because the premise is the absence of something (like the dieting industry) that you can’t see in the first place. So, if what we’re trying to do is contain or destroy these gases, wouldn’t it make more sense to not generate them in the first place?

 

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