Pumpkin peril: Federal website's jack o'lantern warning cites climate change

Taking pumpkin carving to the next level


There’s good reason to be frightened of those jack o’lanterns on porches across America this week, according to the federal government, and it isn’t just candlelit, jagged-toothed grins.

Pumpkins, according to the Department of Energy’s website, contribute to global warming by decomposing into methane, a harmful greenhouse gas the federal government says is 20 times as scary as carbon dioxide.

“With the passing of Halloween, millions of pounds of pumpkins have turned from seasonal decorations to trash destined for landfills, adding to more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste produced in the United States every year,” the agency warns. “This Halloween, think of turning this seasonal waste into energy as a very important 'trick' that can have a positive environmental and energy impact.”

" ... I really don’t think pumpkins are the problem.”

- Larry Checkon, Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association

The department hopes that one day the pesky pumpkins can be turned into clean energy, and is working with industry players to develop and test “biorefineries,” facilities “capable of efficiently converting plant and waste material into affordable biofuels, biopower and other products.”

"It might not be long until the 1.3 billion pounds of pumpkins we produce annually are nearly as important to our energy security as they are to Halloween!" the department offers.

Since the pumpkin power plan is not yet ready, the department is marking National Energy Action Month with some milder suggestions for pumpkin carving, hoping to at least raise awareness of the orange menace.

“We also put together some energy-themed pumpkin patterns to help 'energize' your neighborhood for Halloween,” the department’s website invites. “Send us photos of your energy-themed jack-o-lanterns via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or email and we'll share our favorites.

Pumpkins are getting a bad rap, according to Larry Checkon, vice president of the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Association.

“They are a small part of the biomass that is out there, and this is just one of those things the government kind of clues in on occasionally, something new to pick on,” said Checkon, whose own 1,797-pounder was crowned as this year’s champ at the association's annual weigh-off earlier this month in Altoona. “When you consider grass clippings, leaves and garbage, I really don’t think pumpkins are the problem.”