Saturday, December 4, 2010

Waking up is hard to do

Just when you thought funding for ridiculous climate studies was on the wane, Professor Ole John Nielsen of Copenhagen has discovered that gases used in anaesthesia are up to 1600 times more potent as greenhouse gases than CO2. Happily, he reassures us that he won't call for them to be banned. Yet.
Nielsen, who got the idea while his wife was having a baby (whereupon the Daily Suppository will restrain herself from defamatory comments against the male persuasion...its been a rough few weeks) has written in the British Journal of Anaesthesia that the global impact of inhalation anaesthesia is comparative to a million cars. This sounds exciting, until you work out that that is the same as one coal fired power plant. Lets not freak out prematurely or anything.
Prof. "Not a medical doctor" Nielsen, has advised anaethetists that they should "sit up and take notice" of this, and since of the three anaesthetic gases analysed, one is more potent as a greenhouse gas than the other two:
If all three compounds have equal therapeutic work, there is every reason to use the one with the lowest global warming potential.

A statement so cute in its over-simplicity and mis-identification of significance. Just hazarding a guess here, but from what I know of anaesthetics (which isnt much, and Im not looking it up because Im on holidays) Im going to go right ahead and guess that the complex physiological and pharmaceutical science that is anaesthetics takes into account more factors in selecting an agent than its "therapeutic work". Thats because the "therapeutic work" of an inhalation anaesthetic is usually "knocking you out", and they all do that. Amazingly though, the pharmacokinetics of the agent, and dare I say it, the patient's individual physiology, plays a part, too. Not to mention the availability and cost of the agent itself.
Thinking of the anesthetists I know, I'm somehow not too worried that this is going to radically change the profession. Perhaps Prof. Nielsen should have investigated the climate impact of runnning just one hospital laundry, instead.

EDIT: Anthony Watts just debunked the paper's claims in a particularly educated and erudite fasion. His rebuttal is based on science-y stuff, mine on hanging out with anaesthetists at three in the morning on a labour ward, or watching one napping against a wall while I helped put a rubber hose up an unconscious patient's bum. Probably go with what Watts says, Im thinking.