Summer Burn

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The distinctive aroma of broiling burgers is part of summer and I get how grilling is the centerpiece for outdoor gatherings of families and friends. It's often the easiest way to feed the numbers of old and new relatives that show up. Since those tempting whiffs were interrupting my reading on climate change, I got interested in how gas BBQ’s compared to charcoal.

Gas vs. Charcoal


A 2017 report claims that emissions from charcoal are twice as high as from a gas grill. Grill with gas for an hour and emit 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air. Use charcoal briquettes for an hour and emit 11 pounds of CO2. The authors point out, however, that in terms of the total cycle of charcoal and natural gas, the charcoal is a renewable resource. You can grow more trees for charcoal but cannot repeat the centuries it takes to create natural gas so they pegged that option as “carbon neutral.”


Given the larger picture of what’s happening to trees on the planet as a whole, I don’t consider that option as quite so “neutral.” Besides, if you leave the trees there, they help absorb (sequester) carbon from out of the atmosphere. I need to remember that just because something is renewable, it’s not always the best alternative.

The big commercial charcoal producers are already bypassing the trees. Kingsford, the largest U.S. charcoal producer, says it only uses lumber scraps. They also promote on their website what they are doing to improve their environmental footprint. Others are developing new ways to produce charcoal from renewables like bamboo as “green charcoal” for the many populations that have charcoal as their only source of heat.

NYTimes article  . Joao Silver photo

NYTimes article . Joao Silver photo

Slow Steps

Americans are not about to abandon barbeques any time soon, but we can pay more attention to how we do it and the effects on the atmosphere. The same way we’ve learned to attend to the invisible but provable cancer risk from overexposure to sun, we are now learning to attend to our energy decisions that are impacting the wellness of the planet. And the health of my favorite whale creatures.

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Changes in what we pay attention to is important. It is often the first step in gradually changing social awareness about our energy sources. Please share your BBQ thoughts as the summer wears on.

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