Hey Mr. Green,
Is the nitrous oxide used in whipped cream, either in Reddi-wip or a nitrous oxide canister, a greenhouse gas concern? I know nitrous oxide is much worse than carbon dioxide, but I don't have a sense of whether the volume that escapes to the atmosphere from this delicious product is a major concern. (Or perhaps you could compare the greenhouse gas emissions to whipping one's own cream with an electric beater or buying Cool Whip?) --Jane, in Lafayette, Indiana
The volume of nitrous oxide used as a propellant is so low that there’s no need to fret. In the grand scheme of things, a bigger hazard might lie in “using nitrous oxide” inappropriately, by huffing it to get high. Nitrous oxide, also called “laughing gas” or “hippy crack,” can annihilate precious brain cells while altering your consciousness, and in extreme doses can permanently eliminate your consciousness.
While nitrous oxide does contribute about 300 times more to global warming per unit of weight than its notorious cousin, carbon dioxide, the total weight of nitrous oxide emitted is so much smaller that climate scientists figure it contributes about 5.4 percent to the human-generated greenhouse-gas effect in the United States—not a negligible amount, but clearly no match for carbon dioxide. Total nitrous oxide emissions in the United States are around 55,000 tons, and use of all products that contain nitrous oxide accounts for a mere 1.4 percent of this total, or about 770 tons, or only .000036 as much as the effect of annual carbon dioxide emission in the United States. This is because we spew out a staggering 6,500,000 tons, or 85 percent of the total global-warming emissions effect, according to the EPA.
Hence, nitrous oxide emissions from whipped cream might even be lower than emissions from 1) producing the cream itself, and 2) driving to the store to purchase it, because agriculture and burning fossil fuels account for about 94 percent of the nitrous oxide emissions. In order to explore this further, I'm anxiously waiting for the Reddi-wip spokesfolks to disclose the nitrous content of their cans. If this crucial data is delivered, I’ll be able to answer your challenging request to compare greenhouse gas emissions involved in whipping one's own cream with an electric beater.