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Article about the environmental impact of pets.
November 1, 2009 5:51 PM   Subscribe


 
Suddenly, there is an uptick in enviro-skeptics.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:55 PM on November 1, 2009 [10 favorites]


The world needs less human beings.
posted by belvidere at 5:59 PM on November 1, 2009 [25 favorites]


In their new book, Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living

There's a pretty clear tradeoff between giving your book a title that lends it credibility and one that makes it more marketable, and they seem to have decided to go all out for the latter. Perhaps they rejected Oh Shit, the Dogs Will Kill Us All! as too extreme.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2009 [18 favorites]


fewer
posted by Justinian at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2009 [24 favorites]


SUVs and big sloppy dogs both fall into the category of "dangerous, obtrusive, and obnoxious things people buy so they don't have to feel so small and powerless".
posted by dunkadunc at 6:00 PM on November 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


I heard about this the other day and did a facepalm. It's hard enough convincing "the other side" of the need to change our ways without this kind of sensationalist stuff being published.
posted by Zinger at 6:01 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, people buy small dogs so they won't feel so big and powerful?
posted by josher71 at 6:03 PM on November 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


I admit frankly that it wouldn't matter if the Vales' thesis was endorsed by Al Gore, James Lovelock, and Vishnu himself.

You can have my dogs over my cold dead body. [And if you take them, be warned that Emma sleeps in the middle of the bed - taking up a great deal of room.]
posted by Joe Beese at 6:04 PM on November 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


"Every year the UK's 7.7 million cats kill over 188 million wild animals. That's 25 per cat."

Wait, what? Could somebody please explain that figure?
posted by cgomez at 6:04 PM on November 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


If we killed off our pet dogs, would offal, tripe, and sausage makin's all become much more popular, or would that meat get ground up into fertilizer?
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:06 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Does this logic actually make any sense? I'm sure grizzly bears consume huge amounts of energy too, but it's not like you hear anyone advocating wiping out all large land animals because of their carbon footprint. It seems like the only fair comparison is how much extra energy it takes to feed a house dog compared to a wild dog due to having to ship their food around and drive it back from the grocery store.
posted by 0xFCAF at 6:07 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow. These people are morons.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:09 PM on November 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


How many pets are surrogate children? How many pets are used to keep relationships (and therefore households) together?

Dogs and cats, saving resources. But we should wipe out grizzly bears to save energy.
posted by Sova at 6:10 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat," he says.

There are two elephants in the room here. The first is that my dogs eat chicken necks and other offcuts that I ask my local butcher for. Essentially the left-over bits from meat that was produced for humans, but that humans (at least in my part of the world) won't eat, and would otherwise go to waste. I assume canned dog-food contains similar stuff.

The second is that I assume human beings have a much larger ecological footprint than dogs, and so would be a much more efficient target for euthanasia.

I could go on, and point out that owning dogs means I spend an hour a day taking them for a walk when, I assume, non-dog-owners are sitting down getting some Plasma TV time in.

Simplistic study, designed for attention grabbing, not serious debate.

</ unashamed dog owner >
posted by Jimbob at 6:10 PM on November 1, 2009 [23 favorites]


I'm sure grizzly bears consume huge amounts of energy too, but it's not like you hear anyone advocating wiping out all large land animals.

One Mr. Stephen Colbert would like a word with you.

Yes, I realize I left a relevant part off your comment out of that quote, but the joke doesn't work if I include it.
posted by cgomez at 6:11 PM on November 1, 2009


There's a bit of an equivocation here, because they've reduced everything to the number of hectares required to generate the energy consumed. However, dogs eat food, and cars eat oil. Of course, in an industrialized society it takes some oil to produce and transport food, but the pressing danger here is peak oil and global warming, both of which are exacerbated more by a gas guzzling automobile than by my cats' share of the industrial farming of chicken for their meat cereal.

The better way to make these comparisons is to convert everything into gallons of oil consumed, and we should be suspicious that the New Scientist chose not to use the proper metric. Probably the fossil fuel costs of pets are orders of magnitude off, but that's not as provocative.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:12 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


fewer

Heh heh. Nice catch. grammar nazi
posted by belvidere at 6:12 PM on November 1, 2009


Did anyone else see the linky on the above link about fruit-bat fellatio?
posted by The Potate at 6:12 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Every year the UK's 7.7 million cats kill over 188 million wild animals. That's 25 per cat."

Wait, what? Could somebody please explain that figure?


188 000 000 ÷ 7 700 000 = 24 and change

Won't SOMEBODY think of the rats?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:14 PM on November 1, 2009


I'm quite sure my cats kill lots of little animals; that's why I have them. Now that the cornfields I live near are being harvested, the mice and other rodents living in them are about to make their annual attempt to winter in or near my house. The cats deal with them before I have to.

The akita exists to scare solicitors and people who come to the door wanting to talk to me about Jesus. She earns her carbon footprint as far as I'm concerned.
posted by jscalzi at 6:14 PM on November 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


Korea totally figured this one out long ago.
posted by bardic at 6:17 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really hate to link to what amounts to a climate-change denial blog (although thankfully, it's not a completely insane), but someone else has crunched the numbers and come to quite a different conclusion.
posted by Jimbob at 6:17 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wait...if all fringe environmentalists voluntarily committed Hara-kiri, just think of the carbon footprint benefits!
posted by cleancut at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Won't SOMEBODY think of the rats?

Screw the rats. I just wish they'd leave my songbirds alone.
posted by Atreides at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


so what's the ecological footprint of publishing self-righteous controversy-hunting screeds? - don't forget all the energy wasted by coffee cups and dog collars being thrown at radios and tvs when they make promotional appearances
posted by pyramid termite at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2009


There are two elephants in the room here.

In addition to the dog, that's quite a large carbon footprint.
posted by Ratio at 6:20 PM on November 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


"Every year the UK's 7.7 million cats kill over 188 million wild animals. That's 25 per cat."

Wait, what? Could somebody please explain that figure?


No, because they don't explain if those are feral cats or cats that have a human family. A lot of responsible cat owners, in the U.S. at least, don't let their cats outdoors at all.

If responsible people quit adopting animals from shelters, irresponsible people are still going to abandon them. Then what?
posted by zinfandel at 6:20 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh boy. It'll be "HURF DURF! HEY ENVIRIO-IDIOTS! COW FARTS CAUSE GLOBAL WARMING! SCIENCE SURE IS DUMB! YOU HEAR THE EPA DUMMY SAYS WE SHOULD PAINT OUR ROOFS WHITE AND KEEP OUR TIRES FULL?!" all over again.

And then we'll have Glenn Beck crying on air talking about the Irish Potato Famine, which PEOPLE LIKE HIM lived through where the elites in the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT effectively starved the poor through laws that did not allow the Irish to get educated WHICH IS A LOT LIKE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION! And then he says, "I don't know how many dogs the Irish ate, but the fact that ECOLIBERALS want to make light of this heartbreaking tragedy just makes me sick to my stomach. If my daughter were starving and I had to slaughter and grill Mr. Snuffykins, I would not want a smug jerkwad with a latte in a Prius laughing at my misery. To paraphrase Mark Twain, 'Never cook and eat a dog. That's messed up.'"
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:21 PM on November 1, 2009 [15 favorites]


You can have my dog when I'm allowed to eat your fat juicy baby.

No? Yeah, I didn't think so.
posted by elizardbits at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2009 [14 favorites]


So Scooby was as worse than the Mystery-Mobile?
posted by doublehappy at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


-as
posted by doublehappy at 6:24 PM on November 1, 2009


Does this logic actually make any sense? I'm sure grizzly bears consume huge amounts of energy too, but it's not like you hear anyone advocating wiping out all large land animals because of their carbon footprint.

This is, of course, absurd. Grizzly bears are not operating coal plants, and they are not fed food items produced through fossil fuel using means.

On the other hand, dogs couldn't be much worse then children, although obviously you could feed your kid more vegetables and less meat.

Anyway, this kind of insanity is just as bad as the global warming deniers, and probably does just about as much harm. Rather then sticking with scientific facts, they're making wild, poorly calculated arguments designed to shock and surprise, and get people talking about them rather then actually contributing to anything constructive.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Crazy people is crazy.
posted by nola at 6:26 PM on November 1, 2009


The meat consumption sounds bad, but largely it is otherwise waste meat form domesticated animals (which incidentally has always been the niche of the domestic dog). To my mind, the much more shocking and concerning issue is the amount of wild fish that ends up in pet food (and as fertilizer), while the world's oceans are being massively and rapidly degraded. I'm ok with dogs and cats, but don't feed them fish.
posted by Rumple at 6:32 PM on November 1, 2009 [5 favorites]


Are Great Danes vegetarians? Because avoidance of meat in humans is already a well-documented, well-understood and fairly popular way of avoiding many of the problems that pet ownership allegedly create.
posted by DU at 6:32 PM on November 1, 2009


You know how you keep your cat from depopulating your local wildlife?

You keep it the frig inside like every animal shelter has been begging you to for about 20 years now.

Idiots.
posted by lumpenprole at 6:34 PM on November 1, 2009 [16 favorites]


Your heart is in the right place, Rumpie, but I think to kill the depletion of wild fish, it'll need to get cut off at the source. If dog and cat food didn't use fish, wild fish would get cheaper, and end up getting used for fertilizer and feed for other animals. Chances are the vegetables and meat in the dog food would end up being grown by those fish anyway, although chances are pet food would still get what's left last, like the snouts and throats.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:35 PM on November 1, 2009


The each cat kills 25 animals a year thing seems highly suspect to me. It kinda makes me question all the data. I mean, really? Also, there is a 1.5x a NZ of farmland out there dedicated to just feeding a percentage of the world's house cats? Really?
posted by ill3 at 6:36 PM on November 1, 2009


The problem with this kind of study is that even if the people who make the study have the best intentions, the "dark greens" (disillusioned-environmentalists-come-fatalists) and "pander to the greens but do nothing" free market types latch onto it to make the "global warming is very real, but we're well past the point where we can do anything" argument. It's always accompanied by source after source of CO2 and methane emissions sources, claiming most of them are impossible or expensive to fix. And they always appeal to hobbies and activities to get people who would normally be moderates on the sidelines to get fired up. Example: "Did you know the Greens think barbecuing is bad for the environment? Where do they get off?"
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:41 PM on November 1, 2009


Are Great Danes vegetarians? Because avoidance of meat in humans is already a well-documented, well-understood and fairly popular way of avoiding many of the problems that pet ownership allegedly create.

Most domestic dogs in the US are snout- and anuserians. Dry dog food has a lot of cereals in it too.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:43 PM on November 1, 2009


I'm glad these people created many thousands of copies of a 300-some page paper book that is advertised on various electrically-powered media and shipped all over the world in order to tell me about how my dogs and cats are wasting energy.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:45 PM on November 1, 2009 [13 favorites]


I really wish we had the image tag right now.

Delmoi - PLEASE for the LOVE OF MEAT ENGORGED SHITSUS - just swap your 'then' for 'than' (and vice versa) from hereon and the world will be a better place.
posted by a non e mouse at 6:55 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]



> "Every year the UK's 7.7 million cats kill over 188 million wild animals. That's 25 per cat."
>
> Wait, what? Could somebody please explain that figure?
> posted by cgomez at 9:04 PM on November 1 [+] [!]

It includes the fleas.
posted by jfuller at 7:01 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


People are overeating. This doesn't mean kill/ban all pets. It means maybe you should be paying a carbon tax with your pet license the same way you do (directly or indirectly) for your vehicle.
posted by furtive at 7:02 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is really not the way to go about educating people on climate change.
posted by Avenger at 7:02 PM on November 1, 2009


When we got our cats at The Humane Society, they had us fill out a pledge to keep them inside. We live in the city so we don't really want to let them out anyway but the only wildlife that our kitties eat are moths, flies and a couple of mice that wandered in.
posted by octothorpe at 7:06 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, what? Could somebody please explain that figure?

We will have more rats to feed each day to each cat. Paging Grant Hart to thread.
posted by porn in the woods at 7:06 PM on November 1, 2009


Petless, and feeling inordinately smug about it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:10 PM on November 1, 2009


The "25 animals/cat/year" thing makes sense to me. Feral cats aren't getting meals provided by humans (at least most aren't), so they have to fend for themselves by hunting and killing small animals. Twenty-five a year per cat actually sounds low to me, if we're looking at the activities and feeding habits of feral cats.

If that number allegedly covers only house cats, then... no. That number would be wrong. (Although, I'll note that this year, with no access to the outdoors at all, my cat managed to kill a mouse and threaten the life of a bird. How she found and caught them, I haven't a clue. Wily creatures, those cats.)
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 7:13 PM on November 1, 2009


The government cannot have my dog.

(note: I am not a Jonah Goldberg fan.)
posted by zinfandel at 7:13 PM on November 1, 2009


This is this week's Balloon Boy of environmentalism.

Thank you, Mr. And Mrs. Vale, for making environmentalism look stupid so you can be on TV.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:15 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mencken defined Puritanism as "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Time was when the Puritans were Christian. Nowadays most of them worship Gaia. How dare you have a pet dog! Don't you realize that it's bad for the environment?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:19 PM on November 1, 2009


EVERYTHING YOU LOVE IS BAD AND WRONG.
posted by ErikaB at 7:23 PM on November 1, 2009 [9 favorites]


One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year
[citation needed]
posted by limited slip at 7:27 PM on November 1, 2009


One of my cats is a real pussy. He'll sit outside and birds will walk right in front of him and he'll just make noises but won't attempt to chase them. The other one kills any critters like lizards that gets into my apartment. When he was outside he once killed a snake.
posted by mike3k at 7:29 PM on November 1, 2009


The "25 animals/cat/year" thing makes sense to me.

Me too. When I had outdoor cats, one per day (bird or rodent) was their minimum. That's 365+ per year. The birds, I regret. The mice, not particularly.

It sez here that in the US, studies say cats kill somewhere between 100 million and 1 billion songbirds a year.

We keep our cats indoors now. They don't mind. The vet bills tend to be lower, too - those roaming cats came home with dangling ears and all kinds of other damage from tangling with rivals and god knows what kind of critters out there.
posted by beagle at 7:32 PM on November 1, 2009


Pets: slaves in the bondage of ecoterrorist monkeys.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 7:34 PM on November 1, 2009


When you start to break down numbers like that and advocate the destruction or reduction of animals (or people) you start to tread on some very dangerous moral ground. Taken to the extreme, this sort of approach would advocate the destruction of all western peoples based solely on environmental impact.

I know many people that chose to have pets (specifically dogs) as part of a "no children" life decision. Would it be better to have less pets and more children?

When living things become just another part of the calculation, we end up with the problems the authors are trying to avoid.

posted by blue_beetle at 7:36 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Logically these people should kill themselves for the sake of the planet.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:38 PM on November 1, 2009


The world needs less human beings.

Be honest. You meant "The world needs less other human beings."
posted by Cyrano at 7:46 PM on November 1, 2009 [11 favorites]


Okay, so they say each dog uses 0.84 hectares and each cat uses 0.15 hectares, and that the US has 76 million cats and 61 million dogs, for a grand total of 62,640,000 hectares in the US being used entirely to support dogs and cats.

Of course, 62 million hectares is 90% of the land area of Texas, which says something may be just a wee smidge off in their calculations.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:47 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah I read the NS article about this a week ago or so. The study they've done seems absolutely riddled with category errors, and some very suspicious supply chain modelling in my opinion. Those stats they pull out are as rubbery as a jumping castle.

Which is not to refute that animals have a carbon footprint - clearly they do, and just as clearly, it's something we should be considering. However, where, how and why their food comes from is more important than the footprint itself - or rather, it is the footprint.

Arguing that Fido consumes X calories, of which X calories are meat that came from a cow that would otherwise not be born/fart/killed is extremely specious. Most pet food comes from wasted or unwanted resources and corners of the supply chain (daisy can't milk anymore, fido gets breakfast). Pet food is, in fact, quite efficient and as such a better model of resource utilisation than these authors are making out.

This is the kind of argument that opponents of sensible climate policy (aka the other side) pull out all the time when dismissing legitimate policy concerns and proposals, and we should not be stooping to their level. And, indeed, we need to keep the focus on the big bits that help, rather than alienating people with the smaller fry.
posted by smoke at 7:47 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also 10 000kms annually on an SUV is an outrageous under-calculation - at least here in Australia, where 20 000km would still put you on the low end.
posted by smoke at 7:49 PM on November 1, 2009


I think a good solution to this is to have treadmills attached to every home, on which an owner can walk his big grey Great Dane every day, thus generating electricity for the home and reducing the animal's carbon footprint.

Of course, some asshole would probably get caught in it when his dog tried to chase a cat, and he'd wind up screaming for his wife, and everything would just go downhill.
posted by hifiparasol at 7:53 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


This particular article seems to be so stupid as to not be worth serious discussion, but it brings up a point I'm interested in.

This put me in mind of a link I once saw here, I'm sure someone knows the name, but it was a bunch of philosophical problems that used examples like "you see a train coming at a stranger, do you save him?" to argue that not giving all your spare money to charity was the same as killing the stranger.

It sounded really good, until I thought about it a bit and realized: in that universe, art is indefensible. How can you spend money to make or view art when people are starving? In that universe, any kind of pleasure, leisure or enjoyment that costs money or uses resources is indefensible. Having any children at all is probably indefensible. The irony is, while it is clearly motivated by a love of mankind, these philosophies, taken to their extreme, reduce mankind to something like a hive of ants.

I do personally give to charities and try to reduce my environmental impact, within reason. IANAR. (I am not a Randian.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:56 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


> "Every year the UK's 7.7 million cats kill over 188 million wild animals. That's 25 per cat."
Wait, what? Could somebody please explain that figure?


In the UK, it is normal for cats to be allowed outdoors to assassinate wildlife at will. Whilst it is normal in the USA for cats to be imprisoned in a house or apartment, that's not how most British cats live.
posted by nowonmai at 7:58 PM on November 1, 2009


If people didn't keep pets, would they be likely to breed more instead? What's the environmental footprint of a child?
posted by nowonmai at 7:58 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Feral cats aren't getting meals provided by humans (at least most aren't), so they have to fend for themselves by hunting and killing small animals. Twenty-five a year per cat actually sounds low to me, if we're looking at the activities and feeding habits of feral cats.

I imagine that it's 25 per year if you count all the domestic house cats that aren't out killing and eating small animals every night.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:01 PM on November 1, 2009


blue_beetle: "When living things become just another part of the calculation, we end up with the problems the authors are trying to avoid."

That does sound like an awesome sentence doesn't it? But unfortunately, I'm not sure it actually means anything.

Using math to understand and evaluate a system (in this example, pet ownership) does not mean dehumanizing it. It's just another tool we use to understand the world. In this case, pets are (in some sense) harming the environment. And if that is your major concern re: pets, then here is your answer: don't have pets.

Clearly that isn't the whole story, but for some people, it's important. And who are any of us to say that someone is a bad person for pointing out that, yes, pets are consuming resources and increasing pollution?
posted by TypographicalError at 8:05 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


blue_beetle: I know many people that chose to have pets (specifically dogs) as part of a "no children" life decision. Would it be better to have less pets and more children?

Because the environmental feedback of children is exponential, almost anything is better in comparison. Your pets won't choose to have more pets, who then choose to have pets themselves, etc. I guess it's similar if you breed them, but I suspect the number of dogs and cats in the world is strongly tied to the human population.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:16 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I live extremely rurally and my dog helps keep the grizzlies away. If a grizzly came and killed myself, my wife, our daughter and the cat, then truly this would reduce our carbon footprint. Morons.

A complete aside, for humors sake...the cat is old and named Pico, because he was sick when he was young and is a bit small. When we picked our dog from the SPCA, it was clear she was going to be awfully big (black lab, shepherd, mastiff cross). So we named her Tera.

10^-24 vs. 10^24

:) Welcome to our nerd family.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:23 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's a bit of an equivocation here, because they've reduced everything to the number of hectares required to generate the energy consumed.

This approach is used so you can estimate whether you can reach equilibrium in the world based on Net Primary Productivity (which is usually viewed based on the carbon cycle for ecological footprint analysis). So if you measure things in terms of oil you can never consider equilibrium (or sustainability) as oil is a finite resource (essentially). Using arable land allows you to demonstrate whether you fall in to an ecological deficit or not.

Personally, I'm quite a fan of viewing human activities through the lens of ecological footprinting and it seems to be one of the best measures out there.

Can someone who disagrees with the values in this study provide some references that they are incorrect, rather than assuming these points were not previously considered? The academic David MacKay, quoted in the article is an highly respected scientist, and the Stockholm Environmental institute are also well known, lending it credibility.

(MacKay has an Erdős number of 2)
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 8:31 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you start to break down numbers like that and advocate the destruction or reduction of animals (or people) you start to tread on some very dangerous moral ground.

It looks like you, like so many in this thread, didn't even bother to RTFA. The title of their book is pretty clearly supposed to be tongue in cheek. If you'd have read the article, you'd have noticed that the book is about calculating the environmental costs of various things (pet ownership being one of them), not some screed against pet ownership.

I see the same pattern here again and again: someone makes an FPP about the calculated environmental footprint of thing X (and yeah, these calculations are necessarily going to be pretty rough) and everyone piles on to proclaim loudly that they couldn't possibly have any interest in knowing about the environmental footprint of their choices in life. In fact, to even consider that their choices might have consequences is a concept deserving of ridicule (why don't environmentalists just kill themselves, ha ha ha).

If we are going to make a real effort to reduce our environmental footprints, then we'll need calculations like these and we'll need to make hard choices based on those calculations. If you think that you don't have a responsibility to try to reduce your footprint (or even think about it), then, yes, you're pretty much like that SUV driver.
posted by ssg at 8:43 PM on November 1, 2009 [17 favorites]


I trap outdoor cats and feed them to my dog. Win-win.
posted by GuyZero at 8:49 PM on November 1, 2009


The New Scientist could do a story on gravity and it would sound like a pile of horseshit.
posted by benzenedream at 8:51 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


If dog and cat food didn't use fish, wild fish would get cheaper, and end up getting used for fertilizer and feed for other animals.

More like: if dog and cat food didn't use fish, the collapse of fisheries might take a bit longer than currently expected.
posted by harriet vane at 8:52 PM on November 1, 2009


There are two elephants in the room here.

Quick, eat them before they get away.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:58 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am starting a one woman protest, and this is what my sign will say:

STOP SINGLE-LINK NEW SCIENTIST FPP's
THEY ARE THE #1 SOURCE OF GREENHOUSE GAS
AND QUASI-SCIENCE

(unless, of course, you'd like to hear about the latest advances in time travel every freaking week...)
posted by sararah at 8:58 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Taken to the extreme, this sort of approach would advocate the destruction of all western peoples based solely on environmental impact.

Yup! The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:01 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can someone who disagrees with the values in this study provide some references that they are incorrect, rather than assuming these points were not previously considered?

Well, it's a bit eyeball-y but from the information in this report, we get a median distance travelled by all vehicles in Australia of arrrrrrooouuunnnd 14 000 kilometres annually (which fyi has gone up, but I can't be frigged finding the latest numbers).

Now I accept that freight etc will bump that number higher, however they're a very small cohort, whereas sedans, hatchbakcs etc are much larger cohort that would most likely bump that number lower. If the median is 14 000 (ish), I would be extremely, extremely skeptical that suvs/4wds would be around 4000 km lower than that. They would almost certainly be higher, if only a bit.

ssg, I don't think anyone is decrying the need to make calculations, but based on the New Scientist article I read, and the information held therein (and I accept the book may be an entirely different kettle of fish, but it's the article we got), then they are _wrong_. Wrong numbers don't help anyone's case.

The problem with a lot of (public, particularly) policy debates is essentially one of ignorance. The fact is, we - any of us - do not possess the knowledge to know what impacts our choices are having on the world in which we live. I mean, we can throw out a "net good", or "net bad", but that's a pretty murky base to make a moral judgement on how to live. There is a fundamental disconnect at play here.

The net effect is we are robbed of agency when it comes to making choices and also evaluating sources. And yet, the world continues to turn; the very act of living is a choice. But we don't know what the decision is, or the price our actions garner.

I feel that Philip K Dick really understood this horrible paradox and elucidated it very clearly; a world where meaning is arbitrary or absent, and the struggle to overcome it and generate some real meaning from so much ignorance.
posted by smoke at 9:11 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh, dear god in heaven. Pet dogs and cats are a blip in the ongoing problem of global degradation. If they even fucking register on your radar, it's a pretty good indication that your own priorities are out of wack.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:31 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


My car is efficient, my scooter is a clean 4-stroke, and my dogs are adopted from shelters (and also itty-bitty.) Obviously this reflects extremely well on my eco-friendliness, and I need not be concerned about my epic water and electricity bills.
posted by davejay at 9:37 PM on November 1, 2009


I should have said consumption instead of bills, ffs
posted by davejay at 9:38 PM on November 1, 2009


Taken to the extreme, this sort of approach would advocate the destruction of all western peoples based solely on environmental impact.

My issue is with the values involved, not the data or claims.

"Taken to extremes", people espousing this kind of thing are misanthropes to a greater or lesser extent. They don't think humans have any right to exist. They see humans as a plague on the planet, destroyers and spoilers.

I happen to like people. I am one, and so are all the other humans I know and like. I think humans have a net worth. And I know that it is impossible for humans to live without changing the planet in various ways.

See, that means I don't think there's anything wrong with humans changing the planet, as such. Do not accuse me of saying I think it's OK for us to utterly ruin the place. I am not saying that. I am saying that some human impact is OK, even quite a lot of human impact, because it's impossible for humans to exist without causing impact, and I think an Earth with humans is preferable to one without.

So what about the data and conclusions they come to? From my point of view, they don't really matter. In order for their data to make a difference, you have to agree with them that all human impact on the planet is a bad thing, and that it should be minimized as much as it possibly can.

Since I don't agree with that, then everything else they say about that is moot.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:38 PM on November 1, 2009


Ah, crap. I quoted the wrong thing. This should have been the first line of my comment above:

Can someone who disagrees with the values in this study provide some references that they are incorrect, rather than assuming these points were not previously considered?

My issue is with... etc.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:41 PM on November 1, 2009


In order for their data to make a difference, you have to agree with them that all human impact on the planet is a bad thing, and that it should be minimized as much as it possibly can.

What an extraordinary straw man. They say nothing of the kind and that is a completely false characterization of pretty well every environmentally-concerned person or organization I know of.

As someone said upthread, they are trying to measure something, perhaps poorly, but to jump from that to say that all human impact is claimed to be bad assigns them a falsely ludricrous position.

Since I don't agree with that, then everything else they say about that is moot.

Since you don't agree with something they didn't say then your disagreement is moot. See how easy this is?
posted by Rumple at 9:54 PM on November 1, 2009


they are trying to measure something, perhaps poorly, but to jump from that to say that all human impact is claimed to be bad assigns them a falsely ludricrous position.

They are trying to measure something so as to make recommendations on how to reduce it.

But if I don't believe it needs to be reduced, then why would I care what, or how, they measure it?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:07 PM on November 1, 2009


Also 10 000kms annually on an SUV is an outrageous under-calculation - at least here in Australia, where 20 000km would still put you on the low end.

Yeah, 10k km/year seemed small to me. That's what, under 6500 miles/year? Maybe in New Zealand, but in the US? Shit. The average SUV driver is probably at 2x that, at least.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:52 PM on November 1, 2009


Good God, talk about "Lies, damn lies, and statistics". What rubbish.

What if the Great Dane eats a few Pomeranians? Can a doggie get some carbon credit, puh-leeeeeze?
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:14 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


TV news reported that some Congressman has introduced a bill that would allow a pet owner a tax break almost the size of the allowance for a child. Has the world gone mad?
posted by Cranberry at 11:18 PM on November 1, 2009


(unless, of course, you'd like to hear about the latest advances in time travel every freaking week...)

Is it wrong that I kinda would? Only I'd prefer to hear about them last week.
posted by gern at 11:20 PM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't like these stats! They must be wrong!
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:21 PM on November 1, 2009 [12 favorites]


The problem with a lot of (public, particularly) policy debates is essentially one of ignorance. The fact is, we - any of us - do not possess the knowledge to know what impacts our choices are having on the world in which we live. I mean, we can throw out a "net good", or "net bad", but that's a pretty murky base to make a moral judgement on how to live.

That's pure BS. We have data available to tell us about the environmental impacts of our choices. No, it isn't perfect. You might disagree with this particular article or some other piece of data, but to claim that we don't have any basis to make changes to the way we live is just silly. If we find that the data we need for policy debates is lacking, shouldn't we be out there collecting it, rather than complaining that it is just too murky?

This is the same argument that climate change denialists have been feeding us for years: we just don't have enough data to know for sure, so we are better off changing nothing.
posted by ssg at 11:29 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


But if I don't believe it needs to be reduced, then why would I care what, or how, they measure it?

Well, you wouldn't care and apparently you don't. But you might also be wrong in your belief and hence, for lack of a better word, you might be careless. With the planet. And all the living creatures on it, including that subset of creatures, Homo sapiens, which you profess to like having lots of.
posted by Rumple at 11:40 PM on November 1, 2009


The New Scientist could do a story on gravity and it would sound like a pile of horseshit.

Oddly enough, you picked one of the subjects about which we know very little. We still don't really know what causes it, and quantum mechanics doesn't jibe with our current models.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:27 AM on November 2, 2009


We still don't really know what causes it

I should have said, we still don't really understand the mechanism.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:28 AM on November 2, 2009


Based on the proportion of cats bringing home at least one prey item and the backtransformed means, a British population of approximately 9 million cats was estimated to have brought home in the order of 92 (85–100) million prey items in the period of this survey, including 57 (52–63) million mammals, 27 (25–29) million birds and 5 (4–6) million reptiles and amphibians.

From Woods et al, 2003, Mammal Review, 'Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain' 33, 2, 174-188
posted by biffa at 12:31 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


pets are (in some sense) harming the environment.

Okay, let be clear. Pets are not harming the environment. People are harming the environment because they don't do what's best for their local environment and their pet. Seriously, I'm not kidding, go to your local shelter, grab some pamphlets and you will have a happier, healther pet that won't kill all your local songbirds, or whatever's got your panties in a bunch.

See, domesticated animals aren't responsible for decisions affecting their long term welfare or the welfare of their envrionment. They can't think that way!. THAT'S YOUR JOB.

Oh your cat "wants to go out"? Well, he wants to drink brake fluid too. THAT'S YOUR JOB.

And you know, worried about the impact of your dogs food? Cook it. It's easy, lots of people do it and recipies are all over the internet.

You know, or just keep spouting bullshit, you could do that too.

(P.S. if you're one of those militant veggies who are trying to make your animals veggies too, dogs do okay, but don't do it to your cat, for the love of pete.)
posted by lumpenprole at 12:50 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you include toxoplasmosis infected cat feces washing into the marine ecosystem, then 25 may be too conservative.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:52 AM on November 2, 2009


We have data available to tell us about the environmental impacts of our choices.

Okay ssg, pray tell me how much carbon you emitted in the last twelve months, and the twelve months before that?

Tonnes will be close enough, no need to break it down into smaller metrics. Also, because I'm feeling generous, don't bother calculating the sunk carbon in things like clothes and electronics. groceries etc. that you purchased. Pure carbon emitted through power consumption, transport and pets will be enough. Oh, I do insist you include your share of carbon emitted at work.

...

You are imputing motivations to me that I do not have. I am not saying that carbon costs are uncalculable at a national or global level. Nor am I saying that because of the ambiguity we should simply throw our hands in the air and give up.

What I am saying is that these metrics are very hard to track in a way that is either reductable or understandable at an individual level, thus making it very hard to ascertain the effect of our individual actions, and the results thereof.

When I see data like this it poorly organised, poorly packaged, and - frankly, from what we've seen - almost brazenly poorly researched, I feel it devalues the data we do have, and introduces more emotive, confusing noise into the issue.

I note that despite your protests you have not addressed my - and others - substantive criticisms of the research.
posted by smoke at 1:01 AM on November 2, 2009


Also, one more very large problem with this apples and oranges nonsense; it doesn't take into account embedded energy costs. The energy required to make an SUV would make comparison to any living animal on this planet trivial. A huge proportion of an SUV's carbon footprint starts at conception.
posted by smoke at 1:20 AM on November 2, 2009


Doh, I stand corrected: "Meanwhile, an SUV – the Vales used a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser in their comparison – driven a modest 10,000 kilometres a year, uses 55.1 gigajoules, which includes the energy required both to fuel and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser’s eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares – less than half that of a medium-sized dog."

This does however call into question something else - that area of land is pumping out a freakishingly large amount of energy. A hectare growing what could 2.2 SUV's? I wanna know cause I'll start planting it (they use rapeseed, but the catch: it's unprocessed. Needless to say that joule value goes down with processing. So dishonest); no biofuel on earth does that, and yet we compare this hypothetical car with how dogs and cats currently live (I also admire the authors determination to include carbon incidentals with pets, but not with cars).

FYI, I'm not a denialist by any stretch of the imagination, the take-out here is that both are bad. But climate ascetism has a snowflake's chance in, well, earth of provoking good outcomes.
posted by smoke at 1:39 AM on November 2, 2009


They seem like a fun couple.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:17 AM on November 2, 2009


I saw lots of other loopholes pointed out, but did anyone else notice that they decided to compare the dog to a Landcruiser driven half of what the average person drives per year?

In other news, the dust mites in my house have a carbon footprint much larger that a mothballed Boeing 747.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:43 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm sure the statistics are somewhere in the region of being correct, as with those about the impact of cheap air travel and other behaviours that have drawn fire from environmentalists. What I don't accept is the implied solution - that we each individually make a consumer choice to avoid the items of their shopping list of doom.
It seems even more utopian to suggest this will resolve resource conflicts than the long-known critique of capitalism's focus on the exchange- rather than use-value of commodities. So long as this latter economic model dominates, it will adapt to changes in consumer preferences and recoup them for a system that is inherently unsustainable. It's my belief that almost no-one sets out to actively fuck the world up just by the way they live day to day and I would prefer to concentrate on changing the overall framework rather than endless finger-wagging moral campaigns about this or that individual behaviour that even if successful will not save the planet. Sort it out greens - either be serious about sustainablity and argue for communism, or fuck off and shut up.
posted by Abiezer at 2:59 AM on November 2, 2009


Oh your cat "wants to go out"? Well, he wants to drink brake fluid too. THAT'S YOUR JOB.

I'm happy to do the going out for him, but I draw the line at drinking brake fluid for him.
posted by biffa at 3:07 AM on November 2, 2009


So is the takeaway here that owning pets is morally wrong from an environmental perspective? I just want to be clear on this, because I have a lot of pets and didn't realize this made me a Pariah. I've always considered myself a liberal but if everything I do is wrong, maybe I'm not, or something.
posted by cj_ at 3:09 AM on November 2, 2009


The each cat kills 25 animals a year thing seems highly suspect to me.

I don't even own a cat and have just a tiny yard that is frequented by three different cats yet I have had to clean up 3 bird, 2 frog and 2 rat carcasses this summer. Those are just the ones that were left in plain sight. I am sure there were more in the bushes. 25 is an underestimate that probably takes into account house cats.
posted by srboisvert at 3:24 AM on November 2, 2009


They're architects, not scientists! Also, Victoria University isn't very good.
posted by doublehappy at 3:58 AM on November 2, 2009


Personally, I'm quite a fan of viewing human activities through the lens of ecological footprinting and it seems to be one of the best measures out there.

And yet it ignores the crucial problem of energy concentration, which, for instance, is one of the reasons that ethanol is not carbon neutral, not to mention the other problems with competing for food with your car.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:37 AM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the future, only the very rich and the very poor will have live pets. The rest of us will make do with robotic simulations. This is already a viable option with today's technology: take a roomba, add some wires to snag the upholstery, and a small tank of ammonia to stain the carpets, and you're 90% of the way to replacing the house cat.
posted by mr vino at 5:03 AM on November 2, 2009


Too bad the article and book seem rhetorically and methodologically questionable, because we're not having the interesting and productive conversation about the impact of pets that this community is capable of. Owning dogs has a big impact on the amount of driving I "have" to do, if only that at least once a week I have to skip a bus/bike opportunity in order to be able to walk them on schedule. But the important point is that we can think about such impacts and how to mitigate them.
posted by Mngo at 5:09 AM on November 2, 2009


In the future, only the very rich and the very poor will have live pets.

No. In the future, the very poor will be the pets of the very rich. Whatever's left of the middle class will be groomers and litterbox cleaners.
posted by jonmc at 5:25 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I knew, I just knew that fuckin' Marmaduke was up to no good.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:32 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


And yet it ignores the crucial problem of energy concentration, which, for instance, is one of the reasons that ethanol is not carbon neutral, not to mention the other problems with competing for food with your car.

The reason ethanol (from corn) is not carbon neutral is due to the fact that more carbon is required to produce it (fertiliser, machinery, chemical conversion) than you get when you burn it in a car. This has nothing to do with the ecological footprint.

Secondly, it is not related to competition with land for food (though this is an inevitable consequence when oil runs out). The ecological footprint is simply one measure of a rate of production of carbon due to photosynthesis in a metric than people can conceptualize.

smoke, I fail to understand your argument that this tells us nothing about individuals. It is clearly an average value for a certain life-style choice. How does this not tell us something?

Speculating about whether SUV drivers drive significantly greater than the median number of miles does not seem to be that strong of a criticism.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 5:48 AM on November 2, 2009


Has science always been used this way, to muddy the waters? I ask because it seems like in the last 10 years or so it seems like there has been a concerted effort to publish studies that use questionable statistics and improperly gathered information to score political points. Now we have this charming little meme-- dogs are worse for the environment than SUVs-- winging its way around the globe, to be vomited out regularly by people who don't give a shit about carbon footprints or climate change or science. Years from now, a woman driving the biggest, heaviest SUV marketed, hauling her 6 kids to Costco so they can stock up for their annual NASCAR weekend BarBQue is going to speed by a guy in his Prius with a dog in the passenger seat and think, "Yeah, at least I'm not killing the environment by having a dog!"

Petless, and feeling inordinately smug about it.


Bingo! Mission accomplished.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:01 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've actually thought about this... Not in terms of carbon footprint, but in terms of what we spend on our dog for food and medical care (not that much at this point, but she gets regular check ups and shots)... and how that money could save a person or two in some devastated area. This does make me feel guilty, but on the other hand, our dog is one our very few "extravagances" - for a Western couple.

We don't have children; we don't own a car; we live in a small apartment, as opposed to a McMansion, or even a McRegularHouse. We don't waste water (most westerners would cringe at our low-water-use toilet or non-daily showers!), we air dry our clothes, we recycle... And while our dog is eating chicken or turkey (usually - but also beef liver, or, rabbit, pork, or even fish), we're 2/3 of the time eating beans or pasta.

Generally, we are just very reluctant consumers, and so much of our stuff is "scavenged" that we are kind of de facto super-turbo-recyclers... pretty much all of our small appliances are stuff that was thrown out by somebody (I actually can't think of one that wasn't, except our now really-old TV) - and repaired to work by my genius husband: vacuum cleaner; iron; food processor; blender, vcr, cd player, dvd player... We watched TV for about 10 years on a television that someone threw out of a window. Even the majority of our furniture was found on the street. Nevertheless, I realize that we live a really, really luxurious life compared to the majority of people in the world.

So. We may not be the solution, but we are a relatively wee part of the problem in terms of our potential impact as first-world people... and for all the ways that we don't make things worse, I'm claiming this one self-indulgence as my own. I will not eat my dog.
posted by taz at 6:18 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


All I've learned from this is that if everyone kept their cats inside, we'd be neck deep in rodents with songbirds pecking our eyeballs out.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 7:49 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm wondering how they came to their value of energy production per land area? Also how is that relevant given the current method of powering SUV production, namely with oil/coal? I mean theoretically, once everything is all sustainable and SUVs are powered by batteries charged up with solar power or whatever the heck they are theoretically using for energy production, then a large dog will be more resource-taxing than a Hummer. But right now our big problem is the imbalance we've created in the cycle due to burning fossil fuels. We aren't quite to the Malthusian limit of not enough land to feed everyone yet. And I'm guessing that a whole lot more fossil fuels were burned for that SUV than for the dog.

Though, after doing some rough estimates based on current solar power output of some current plants (Southern California Edison, Mojave desert), the 135 gigajoules/hectare number actually seems a very low estimate. So maybe if we developed a whole bunch of solar plants, had all electric cars, and fought for women's rights and birth control in countries which do not have them, then we wouldn't have to give a rat's behind about using too much power or not having enough land to feed everybody and power everything. It's not like sunny deserts and arable land necessarily have a lot of overlap.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:51 AM on November 2, 2009


what Zalzidrax said.

Misleading soundbites like "dogs are worse for the environment than SUVs" suck up far more attention than they deserve in the whole sustainability discussion. And when our attention is wasted on minutiae like this, it takes all the pressure off of our leaders (political or corporate, take your pick) to make the big structural changes that will create true sustainability - developing and mainstreaming sustainable energies, scaling up public transportation, not spending trillions on unnecessary wars, making sure companies are NOT too big to fail, etc.

We can ride bikes, shun all internal combustion engines, light our mud homes with free-range fireflies, eat roadkill and dandelions, whatever - but true sustainability requires big top-down changes in the 1st world to happen quick enough to matter.

Pet ownership can provide great psychological benefits that far outweigh the costs of ownership, including ecological impact. I wuv my kitty.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:11 AM on November 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


I didn't find the comment in the article about eating your pet rabbit to be at all funny or scientific. It was something I'd expect from a 17-year-old, interested in being shocking and accusing me of lacking a sense of humor.
posted by tommasz at 9:44 AM on November 2, 2009


Just wondering how this scientific study deals with the roll cats had in human evolution - ie: cats eat a lot of rodents. A cat who is killing mice in a farmer's field is conservering grain, reducing contamination of grain, and reducing diseases spread by rodents.

This much seems obvious. Most grain farmers have several cats for these reasons.
posted by Deep Dish at 9:58 AM on November 2, 2009


Has anyone seen Jonathan Safran Foer's Let Them Eat Dog:
A modest proposal for tossing Fido in the oven
? I'm betting when is book comes out next week someone will FPP it.
posted by Mngo at 10:01 AM on November 2, 2009


plus and also additionally it should also be noted that dog-owners live longer than non-dog-owners and therefore consume more carbon footprints in their average dog-owning life or whatever it is has the crunchies all in a bunch this week
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:47 AM on November 2, 2009


You can have my dog when I'm allowed to eat your fat juicy baby pig.

No? Yeah, I didn't think so.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:51 AM on November 2, 2009


mmm... delicious baby pig.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:00 AM on November 2, 2009


Another thing that must be taken into account is that to many people an animal is a companion, and the bond can be as strong as it is with people. Having pets helps people with depression, among other reasons. I live alone, and recently my dog died, who was my best friend and companion for many years. If I didn't work so much I would have found another by now, and I'd have no regrets. I sort of need that type of relationship, or at least I benefit greatly by it, and it's probably better for me to try to have a life with animal companions than to do without for the sake of a bit of energy savings.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:05 PM on November 2, 2009




The reason ethanol (from corn) is not carbon neutral is due to the fact that more carbon is required to produce it (fertiliser, machinery, chemical conversion) than you get when you burn it in a car. This has nothing to do with the ecological footprint.

Right. All that processing is how you turn food calories into combustible fuel, so it's an essential part of any apples to apples comparison.... It's more realistic than the ecological footprint, which is why naked ecological footprinting is a bad strategy for measuring sustainability. If you can't actually use hectares of corn or switchgrass to drive an SUV, why would you calculate the costs of SUV driving in terms of hectares of corn or switchgrass?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:04 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, so true anotherpanacea.

smoke, I fail to understand your argument that this tells us nothing about individuals. It is clearly an average value for a certain life-style choice. How does this not tell us something?

It fails to, because it's wrong, womble, emphatically, deliberately, misleadingly wrong. It's not even close to any kind of average on the few metrics I've bothered to check (distance travelled, joules per hectare, energy consumption).

Environmental footprints are typically guff because there's too much noise to get a decent stat (as opposed to carbon footprints, which are usually just an emissions index.You can set different qualifiers but as long as it's agreed what they are it can be quite useful).

This study, by way of contrast, simply contributes to the noise on global warming, distracts from the real measurements that people are doing, and makes it easier to to hate on it.
posted by smoke at 1:49 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you can't actually use hectares of corn or switchgrass to drive an SUV, why would you calculate the costs of SUV driving in terms of hectares of corn or switchgrass?
Because there is a finite amount of land, and a steady supply of solar radiation.

I'm repeating myself here, but ecological footprinting (EF) enables you to measure the amount of carbon per area based on photosynthesis. This is useful, as you are considering how much can be sustained, given that amount of land.

Of course a measure of energy being used is useful, but it is entirely based on relative measures. If you consume X barrels of oil per year, it does not mean much in isolation, or even as part of an emissions index.

EF enables you describe what fraction of land-area this energy usage requires, and forces you to make a comparison with a finite set of choices. I'm not aware of any other ecological metric that does that. In my mind, arguing that EF is not accurate enough, does not diminish its importance.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 2:33 PM on November 2, 2009


I'm having trouble parsing your last sentence. We shouldn't discount a metric that makes inaccurate calculations? Even if these calculations are off by orders of magnitude?
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:14 PM on November 2, 2009


EF enables you describe what fraction of land-area this energy usage requires, and forces you to make a comparison with a finite set of choices.

But Womble those choices are artificial, and parsing everything through a metric of land usage is both reductionist but also far too complex. What about carbon-sequestered soils (agri-char), and their effect on yield? What about low ph soils (predmoninantly limestone, of which Australia has quite a lot)? What about areas of high or low rainfall? What about ocean usage? What about geothermal? Etc etc. One hectare is most definitely not much like another, or even the same hectare at a certain time of year.

But all this is irrelevant, as it assumes a correlative relationship which is simply not there.

It [ecological footprint]'s not really a measurement of energy being used. It's a hypothetical of how much energy would be used, if it was used in a certain way (which it's not, and in many cases never will be), and how that compares to anther type of (typically environmental/agricultural) usage that doesn't actually exist.

Essentially, per this case study you're left arguing, "if we had an A which used B in C ways, compared to if we had a D, which used B in E ways, it would be pretty wasteful." Look at all those qualifiers! Further more it posits B as the unit in common, which is frequently not the case. You can't just say, we'll interpret everything through joules. That's like saying we'll interpret everything through colour. It's not the relevant metric.

This is why ecological footprint is so problematic. It's not actually measuring anything.

I know I've carried on like a whiny pillock in this thread, but it's something I really care about. Global Warming and its corollary problems terrify the ever-loving shit out of me, and governments' apathy to the problem by turns infuriates and depresses me.

However, fake statistics like this muddy what should be crystal clear waters, and help neither develop the sensible policy case (unlike real scientists working in the field), or increase public awareness in any meaningful sense.

As my unanswered hypothetical to ssg, this doesn't help people calculate their carbon footprints any better, or consider what sacrifices will be the most efficacious to make. It only confuses attempts to do so with irrelevant (and _wrong_) metrics based on spurious or I suspect deliberately made-up data. Ignorance helps no one.
posted by smoke at 4:39 PM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


this is not a novel idea: chihuahuas were originally bred for food. which I'm sure explains a lot to some people.
posted by lodurr at 5:38 AM on November 3, 2009


Brenda and Robert Vale are simply off in their calculations by at least a factor of twenty. You can see real numbers with sources listed to do the comparison between a dog and an SUV.

It turns out that a typical dog requires at most only 1/20th of the land as the SUV. Ths is giving the benefit of the doubt to the Vale professors on several items. For example, the Vales claim that their numbers include the energy cost to build the vehicle. The link above lets the Vales off the hook for the energy involved in building the vehicle.

I have nothing against people making provacative statements - I've made a few myself. But I do have a problem when they distort logic and reason to back them up.
posted by ClimateSanity at 7:00 AM on November 3, 2009


hmmm... I just noticed that they are calculating a pound of meat and a half pound of cereal a day for a medium sized dog? My dog should be dead of starvation by now, because she doesn't eat anywhere near that much.

She's also much cheaper to own and operate, didn't use up anywhere near the amount of raw materials and energy to build, doesn't pollute the air (not as much as the SUV, anyway), is biodegradable, plus she doesn't intimidate people on the highway, take up two parking spaces, or wear Sarah Palin bumper stickers... and that's gotta count for something.
posted by taz at 7:01 AM on November 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


No kill animal shelters: destroying the environment.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:59 PM on November 3, 2009


taz, is your dog a great dane? From memory, our great dane would easily have eaten that much in a day.
posted by doublehappy at 2:58 PM on November 4, 2009


Climate Sanity, I am discussing this with a completely different understanding of what the ecological footprint is.

From your link:
In the case of the Land Cruiser grain may be converted to ethanol to power the vehicle. Similarly, grain can be fed to animals to yield meat, which can be fed to the dog.

This is not how you calculate an ecological footprint value - it is based on averages, not on selecting a sample field of corn that you convert into ethanol. Hence, the calculations from that link are completely wrong. From wikipedia:

[The ecological footprint] compares human demand with planet Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle.

Smoke, I do agree that the approach is quite inaccurate. I too care about this issue quite a lot, both academically and personally.

My reasons for liking this approach, are based on its holistic view. For example, if you consider all of the primary nutrient and energy cycles you can estimate what fraction can be used with out disturbing the overall global balance. This type of comprehensive view is lacking in most other simplistic metrics. Interestingly, the term carbon footprint is really not a footprint at all - it is merely a total of the amount of carbon produced for a given time period.

I think if you consider the amount of carbon you produce, and can then relate it to what happens in the world , that is a powerful argument for adjusting how much an individual uses. But to explain that in layman's terms (when considering stocks and flows) is difficult, so relating it to Net Primary Productivity or land, illustrates how much land/sea/forest etc is required to do so.

For the record, there is lots of free global satellite data out there which describes land and vegetation quite accurately. I haven't been following the most recent EF work, but I imagine it is data that researchers would use.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 5:07 PM on November 4, 2009


Doublehappy, she's not... but they are basing their estimate on a medium sized dog, and she is medium, I'd say: around 30 lbs.

But they also say this is based on their analysis of "the ingredients of common brands of pet food" (and then something about pre-dried weight, which makes it difficult for me to actually parse what the hell they're talking about), and we make our own dog food (not as an effort to be eco-friendly, but anyway...). In fact, she just had a chicken/broccoli/sweet-potato breakfast, with a bit of chickpea in there from our soup last night, and I won't deny that she eats as much as a young child, and equal quality, but their numbers seem wildly exaggerated to me. I mean, would one feed a 2-year-old child (similar weight and more active) a pound of meat and half pound of grain daily?

So I don't get how the standard recommended amount of commercial dog food equals a pound of meat and half a pound of grain daily for a medium sized dog, unless the qualifications for "meat" and even "grain" are so low that we are really talking about waste product - because nobody could afford pet food otherwise. And I also don't trust the source, so I'm sort of thinking "lies, damn lies, and home-cooked statistics."
posted by taz at 1:35 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


A seemingly reasonable look at this report here:

Just looking at the numbers so far -- combining the underestimates of SUV impacts with the overestimates of dog food impacts -- the anti-doggites are off by a factor of at least 18, and probably more.
posted by Rumple at 2:31 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ooooo this means since I don't drive an SUV I can have 18 doggies, Yeah!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:05 AM on November 8, 2009


GAH! It's too late for us! We ate our dog last night. :(
posted by taz at 7:09 AM on November 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


But did he taste like he smelled???
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:12 AM on November 8, 2009


Hard to say. We smoked her in the exhaust from our SUV. It took hours.
posted by taz at 7:19 AM on November 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


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