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Tuesday 21 May 2024

Cows on Mars
David Simmonds

Big news, scientists are telling us that the new Mars rover, Curiosity, has detected methane gas. Methane could suggest the presence of life, past, present or future, on the red planet. What a discovery if it pans out.

What life-form may exist or suit Mars?

That question presents an interesting proposition that calls for using the most rigorous logic resolve. Let’s guess. Here goes.

There is one earth presence, which above all others is associated with methane, and that is the humble, common or garden cow. If both cows and Mars share methane, doesn’t might that not mean the environment on Mars has supported, does support or will support bovine life?

In fact, when reporting the methane story, the BBC news used the word “belches” to describe what the rover was picking up. In the technical sense, a cow does not belch when it emits methane.

Cows employ a different exit point. The fact is that both the planetary and bovine emissions are involuntary expulsions of gas. All of which strengthens the logical connection made above.

Perhaps that is just the beginning of our journey in logic. There is a considerable scientific consensus, Stephen Harper and his former government aside, that global warming is real and methane gas is a key culprit, as it is one of the greenhouse gases that traps heat in the atmosphere. Indeed, methane is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after carbon dioxide.

Guess what? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the number one source of methane from human-related activities is livestock, mostly cattle. Cows comprise the largest part of the cattle population are thus the prime source of methane.

Could we not significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by reducing our cow population? How would we do that, you ask? As far as I can see, logic again dictates the result.

Why not resettle a substantial part of our cow population on Mars? There are roughly 1.5 billion cows on the earth; many are no doubt required for meat, milk, leather, worship and all forms of other important uses. If we could rid ourselves of, say, a billion or so cows, we would be cutting that largest source by two-thirds.

Can cows handle the move?

Just how workable is the task, this new bovine Manhattan project? First, can the cows handle the move? We are all familiar with the story about the cow jumping over the moon and many of us know cows are quite accomplished jumpers, especially if you watch Dr Pol on one or another National Geographic channel.

Although a cow has not made it to the moon in the literal sense, other animals have made it into orbit around the moon. As early as 1968, on the USSR “Zond 5” prototype, for example. The slight hiccup was how the payload of turtles, worms, flies and other life forms were subject to fatal g-forces on re-entry into the gravitational field of the earth.

Heck, that was almost half a century ago and it was the moon, not Mars, they visited. It was the Soviets not the Americans that were in charge. I’m not proposing we try to bring the cows home and I say the cows can handle it.

Can the equipment handle it? Well, that’s where another piece of news comes in. Just over a month ago, NASA launched its Orion space capsule with the goal of exploring beyond the moon, to Mars in particular.

According to Bloomfield Businessweek, NASA wants to make it “abundantly clear that much of the hardware that can get humans to Mars already exists and ready to fly.” Indeed, the first manned or, rather, peopled flight to Mars is just six years hence.

Admittedly, there may be some considerations when there is a ruminant rather than human payload and it may seem like a weighty task to ship a billion cows to Mars. Still, I have every confidence in the can-do attitude of NASA. This is especially so if it draws on the skills of Canadian astronaut and superhero Chris Hadfield to tackle the problems.

I suppose there is one alternative way of putting cows on Mars. The enlightened view would have it that we would be making Mars a generous gift by shipping it our billion surplus cows. Is it possible that some environmentalist Martians might regard it as a rather cynical gesture?

Could they accuse us of trying to externalize our problem to their shores? Or maybe, something on Mars is thinking “Hmn, methane gas on earth, eh: maybe they’d be okay if we dumped a couple of billion of our surplus cows on them.” Maybe not, probably; but you just don’t know.

Hey, you on Mars: we come in peace, with methane offerings.

In late breaking news, astronomers just announced the Kepler telescope, used by NASA, found eight new potentially habitable planets. If this Mars and methane business doesn’t work out, we have choices. It’s always good to have choices.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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