Carbon from Kansas

Those concerned with global warming and greenhouse gas emissions tend to focus on our major urban areas, the location of most factories, power plants and congested highways. Few would even think about Kansas, with its rural economy, expansive landscapes and relentless wind. In fact, with its commitment to wind farms, the State has become increasingly involved in efforts to combat our dependence on fossil fuels.

But anyone who drives through Kansas during April might have second thoughts. Clouds of smoke and charred grasslands cover large portions of the State; the effect is even more overwhelming at night when scattered lines of fire produce an eerie, orange glow. This annual practice of burning fields, to control unwanted vegetation and to enrich the soil, must send tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Then there's the cattle industry, a major contributor to greenhouse gases (especially methane); should you doubt this fact, stop by one of the huge feedlots that dot the State. Finally, the rural lifestyle, practiced by a large number of Kansans, necessitates long drives to conduct daily chores, errands and social activities.

While farming and ranching are vital to human welfare and offer an escape from the smoggy atmosphere of major cities, they contribute significantly to the production of greenhouse gases; and though these pollutants are continuously blown out of the region, their global effect persists. Indeed, it's safe to conclude that, on a per capita basis, the average Kansan has a much larger carbon footprint than the average New Yorker.