Does Smoking Contribute to Global Warming?

Smokestack: Compared with how cigarettes damage the environment, secondhand smoke might be the least of your worries. Photo by iStockphoto

You may find this hard to believe if you’re standing near a swarm of chain smokers, but most scientists think the trace amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants in cigarette smoke have, at most, a negligible effect on the climate. “In fact,” theorizes John M. Wallace, a professor at the University of Washington’s climate-research department, “it might even counteract global warming by an equally minuscule amount, because the white particulate matter in smoke would reflect some of the sun’s energy, thereby minimizing heat.”

But the smoky end-product is not the entire story. Tobacco must be grown, and that process puts a serious hit on the environment. The plant itself is very demanding, absorbing six times as much potassium from the soil as most crops do. Farmers in some undeveloped nations grow tobacco until the soil is useless and then clear-cut forests for fresh land. In those areas, 600 million trees are felled and burned annually to dry and cure tobacco leaves. Additionally, four miles of paper an hour is used to wrap and package cigarettes. Setting aside the pollution generated from manufacturing cigarettes, just losing this many carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees leaves at least 22 million net tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to burning 2.8 billion gallons of gasoline.

The damage isn’t confined to the air, either. According to common estimates, tobacco companies produce 5.5 trillion cigarettes every year—approximately 900 for each person in the world. Of those, 4.5 trillion have nonbiodegradable filters that are tossed away, representing as many as one out of every five pieces of litter. Cigarette butts require months or even years to break down, releasing almost 600 chemicals into the soil.

So although most scientists believe that the act of smoking itself has a zero net effect on global warming, secondhand smoke appears to be a minor annoyance compared with the larger damage cigarettes do to the planet.

The Zero-Emissions One-Wheeled Motorcycle

The Uno accelerates with a simple lean and turns like a street bike on side-by-side wheels

RED HOT ROLLER: Gulak had a custom fiberglass body built for the Uno. Photo by John B. Carnett


Cost to Develop: $45,000
Time: 2 years
Prototype | | | | | Product
Just before his plane dipped into the clouds above Beijing International Airport two years ago, Ben Gulak caught the last clear view of the sun that he would see for two weeks. On the ground, the 17-year-old, who was on a family trip to China, quickly spotted a source for much of the thick haze hanging over the city: smog-spewing motorbikes. Thousands of them, everywhere. “Right then,” he says, “I decided that I wanted to create an alternative mode of transportation, something clean and compact.”
EASY RIDER : Ben Gulak sits on his self-balancing electric “unicycle” outside
his home near Toronto.
Photo by John B. Carnett

When he got home, Gulak drew up a plan for an all-electric unicycle that would emit no fumes and, he figured, be easier to weave through crowded streets than a standard two-wheeler. To give the ride more stability, he put the wheels side-by-side just an inch apart and directly under the rider, who accelerates by leaning forward, as he would on a Segway. When the rider leans into a turn, the inside wheel lifts and the outside wheel lowers, so both stay firmly on the ground.

Gulak put off college for a year (now 19, he enrolls at MIT this fall) and began building the Uno at a motorcycle shop outside Toronto. He modified the frame from a Yamaha R1, which is wider than most motorcycles, so it can house the side-by-side wheels. But he quickly realized that he was out of his depth in the electronics department: He would ride the Uno for a few seconds, and the circuitry would catch fire. So he contacted Trevor Blackwell, a robotics engineer who specializes in self-balancing software. With Blackwell’s help, Gulak equipped the Uno with a gyroscope and a control system that both keeps the rider balanced over the tires and manages the suspension.

The Uno’s two wheelchair motors should, theoretically, give it a top speed of 40 mph, but for safety’s sake, Gulak hasn’t taken it above 15 mph yet. “The only way to figure out if an alteration works is to jump on and ride the thing,” he says. “I’m pretty sure I chipped my kneecap in one crash.”

Gulak’s next task is reworking the suspension to handle more drastic leans, but he says he may need some help writing the code that keeps the Uno balanced at faster speeds. “The fundamental tech is figured out,” he says. “It just needs the right people to tweak it.”

Linus Torvalds interview with Charlie Rose

Part 1

Part 2

The Origins of Linux - Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the operating system phenomenon Linux, tells the story of how he went from writing code as a graduate student in Helsinki in the early 1990s to becoming an icon for open source software by the end of the decade.