Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies, 2.23

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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31 Comments

  1. Pet’s have a high carbon footprint? Because of the meat they eat? What does that mean for PEOPLE who eat meat?

    This sounds like something PETA would come up with.

    Even if it’s true, they should be talking to vets and animal specialists about the ideal ways to keep pets, instead of going after the most popular (and possibly least healthy) brands of pet food.

    I find it interesting that little things like this come up all the time, while in the meantime, we’re still burning oil and coal as much as we ever were and we’re still trying hard to continue to do so. Even if I didn’t like animals, I would find it hard to get upset with their carbon footprint while Copenhagen felt it necessary to import limo’s to take care of all of the Climate delegates.

    We’re certainly not scraping the bottom of the barrel finding things to clean up.

  2. Humans have been keeping domesticated animals for thousands of years. Cows have been farting for thousands of years. Volcanoes have been belching sulfur for millions of years. And yet the effects of climate destabilization are mostly observable over the last 150 years.

    This kind of sensationalism serves only to muddy the waters, and confuse people, and make them think that they have to make severely unacceptable concessions to do anything about their carbon footprint. Someone should do a study on the carbon footprint of a strawman.

  3. Favorite quote from the animal carbon footprint article:

    “”Rabbits are good [pets], provided you eat them,” said Robert Vale.”

    I think more people being encouraged to own animals like chickens is a good thing. I also agree wholeheartedly with Swordsbane and Peregrine that this isn’t exactly the first place to be looking to cut back on for the environment.

  4. I think the whole “carbon footprint” thing is over-rated. It all comes down to the question: What are you going to count? I think a little common sense will go a long way, but if I have to make massive inconvenient changes in my lifestyle so the eco-friendly person down the street doesn’t go ballistic, I’ll just have to excercise my free speech to go outside and play an eco-friendly game of hide and go eff yourself. I’ll do the “green” thing because of budget, not conscience.

    But, from the KA trailer, it looks like what Watchmen could have been.

  5. Has anyone read “Hot, Flat and Crowded”? The author talks about what we do as American’s to reduce our footprint (drive hybrid, switch to flourescent, etc) and basically says that while they ARE good ideas in and of themselves and certainly a step in the right direction, there are dozens of cities popping up in China and India who would “eat the carbon we saved for breakfast.”

    I can’t help but think that the solution to this whole carbon crisis isn’t going to come in the form of little concessions like not driving SUV’s. It’s only going to come from a completely new source of energy not yet thought of kind of like they allude to in the Watchmen movie. Only something that is as effective as fossil fuels without the impact is going to save us. Seriously, until we actually RUN OUT, nobody, absolutely NOBODY is going to stop doing things that require the burning of said fuels.

    Ah the existential dread. I need a donut.

  6. I was totally gonna send that kick ass trailer! I’ve seen it like seven times. I’m so excited for the movie, being a huge comic book geek and all. Though I’m hesitant because of Nicolas Cage’s track record of sucking. But that little girl is so perfect for this role.

  7. I don’t see anything wrong with trying to keep your carbon footprint small. The problem is, right now there’s no reliable way to get even a good estimate of how big exactly your carbon footprint is. Not to mention that your pet isn’t going to have nearly as much impact as, say, your SUV.

    So at the moment, giving up your pet is going to have about as much of an impact as giving up your kids (the merits of which we discussed a couple of weeks ago).

    But just because the little things aren’t going to make a huge impact by themselves, if everyone keeps thinking that way, everybody’s going to keep wasting energy just because they’re too lazy to turn of the TV on their way out for example. Because no one else is doing it either. At which point I feel I have to agree with the eco-friendly person that not all little efforts are massive lifestyle changes …

  8. @davew:
    Maybe I should have said too selfish to survive.

    Which is exactly why I think eco-taxations are actually one of the best ways to go about it. You hurt people in the only place they still seem to feel pain: their wallets, then they’ll make the right choices, even if doing it for the wrong reasons. You just make polluting a financially unattractive option.

  9. every morning after getting the kids out to school, i prepare to go to work. There will be at least 37 lights on in the house along with 2 or 3 televisions, 3 or 4 computers. Takes 5 minutes to run through the house and turn everything off! but i do it. it’s the selfish thing…. when i don’t do it we have a $900 electric bill, when i do do it (haaa he said do do), the electric bill is around $400. Economics drive my ‘green-ness’

  10. Is it wrong of me to think that we could solve this climate stuff by simply allowing a totally random 2/3 of humanity to die by disease? That’d take us back to a world population of about 2 billion, which is where it was at the end of WWII.

    And yes, I’m kidding.

  11. There are lots of people who think I’m super green or eco-friendly and all that. But really I’m just cheap and lazy. I don’t own a car. Everything about having a car is expensive and takes work. So much easier to just step outside and grab a bus 95% of the time. The rest of the time I use a by-the-hour car that is paid for by work if it is a work related thing. I don’t own a pet. I cook most of my own food from local organic ingredients (my 2 closest food sources are a farmers market and an organic coop). I live in a little studio apartment (so much less space to clean! and cheaper to boot!).

    But so many people hear these things and automatically get defensive about how not green I am (OMG you have gadgets) or how I should really be living with a family of 20 in my apartment to have a small footprint. These people need more booze.

  12. exarch: “Which is exactly why I think eco-taxations are actually one of the best ways to go about it”

    I agree, but there is a big problem in determining what is polluting and what isn’t. There is something called the “Total cost of production” which muddies the waters in economic and environmental terms. People think oil is (relatively) cheap, but it isn’t. The government pays the oil companies a lot of money by way of incentives and subsidies to dig up oil and refine it. If that government money wasn’t flowing in, a lot of economists say that oil would be either too expensive to make or gasoline would be too expensive to buy.

    By the same token, it is technically possible right now to switch from oil to electricity for 90% of our automobile needs (eg going to work, shopping trips, etc) but with our current infrastructure, we just change our pollution source from burning gasoline in our tanks to burning coal in a power-plant. Does that mean that building EV’s is wrong? Of course not (although some people say so) What it means is that we have to consider all the steps it takes to move resources from where they are in the ground to what we do to produce the energy we get from them. Natural Gas sounds like a good idea because it burns much cleaner than coal or gasoline, but the production process is more toxic and polluting than either coal or oil. If we were producing electricity by a cleaner method, then EV’s would be the way to go. Too many people think that all they need to do is get a hybrid or recycle and they’re doing just fine, or think that if you’re NOT driving a hybrid or recycling, then you clearly don’t care about the environment. I agree that we should do all we can, but both attitudes are wrong. Things are more complicated than that. A lot of the pollution we as individuals put out would be reduced or eliminated if the corporate world or the government got their act together, and a lot of the pollution that is being put out from factories and power plants would be reduced or eliminated if we didn’t tolerate it anymore.

  13. I’ve always held to the conviction that centralising the pollution, while in itself merely shifting it from one spot to another, opens up options of dealing with it in one spot.
    So yeah, creating electricity, or hydrogen (which is technically a very energy-inefficient fuel as it takes more energy to produce than it generates) allows you to deal with carbon emmisions in one spot, rather than having to do something about carbon emmisions on every vehicle exhaust pipe in the world. Not to mention electricity can (and is) produced in carbon neutral ways too.

    I’m not sure what could be done to reduce CO2 emmissions from an electric plant, but they generate a lot, so something needs to be done about it, and it’s probably easier to find something that fixes one plant than retrofitting 1’000’000 cars …

  14. Speaking of oil subsidies, I think those oil-sand refineries in Canada are barely making a profit just extracting the stuff. I think not enough people are realising the actual cost of fuel and coal compared to the investment in alternative sources.

    Critics are quick to point out that it takes, for example, about 40 years for a windmill to deliver a return on the initial investment. Financially anyway. But I wonder if that’s the real cost …

    I also agree with a quote from Jay Leno on Top Gear. Essentially he said that if you want people to change their ways, you have to give them something that closely resembles what they already know.
    Forcing people to drive electric cars that take at least two hours to recharge is a big step back. People are used to stopping at a refueling point, fill up/recharge, and be on their way again in 5 to 10 minutes. So far, the only technology that seems to come close to that is hydrogen fuel cells.

  15. exarch: I’m not sure what could be done to reduce CO2 emmissions from an electric plant, but they generate a lot, so something needs to be done about it, and it’s probably easier to find something that fixes one plant than retrofitting 1′000′000 cars …

    Sooner or later, we have to deal with the gas-burners. Production of electricity and burning gasoline are the biggest sources of pollution. Eliminating one will help, but won’t be enough.

    The only good thing about gasoline is that production can no longer keep up with use and it’s only going to get worse, so even if we didn’t have the pollution problem to deal with, either we kick the habit now while we have options or we do it later when it becomes too expensive. Personally, I think there would be a LOT less trouble all the way around if we did it now.

  16. @exarch: Which is exactly why I think eco-taxations are actually one of the best ways to go about it. You hurt people in the only place they still seem to feel pain: their wallets, then they’ll make the right choices, even if doing it for the wrong reasons. You just make polluting a financially unattractive option.

    I agree as well. This will prove far more effective in the long run than appealing to people’s inner treehugger.

  17. @Zapski:

    Well, I certainly don’t advocate letting existing people die, but population control will be the biggest factor in pollution and climate change. The more humane way to do this is reduce the number of people that will exist in the future, while taking care of the people who already exist.

  18. catgirl: The more humane way to do this is reduce the number of people that will exist in the future, while taking care of the people who already exist.

    The most conservative estimates I’ve seen on how runaway population growth will be turned around is maybe three or four generations. That isn’t soon enough. If we don’t turn it around voluntarily before then, it will be done without us, either through war or famine (which isn’t all that far away now) or some disease (which is how it happened the last time population growth got ahead of technology)

    Like reducing our dependency on oil, either we do it now while we can do it relatively painlessly or it will be done without our being able to control it and it will hurt a LOT more.

    Judging by our historical track record, I am not exactly filled with confidence.

  19. I’d be interested in comparing the monthly cost of a dog to that of an SUV. Say, comparing total cost of ownership divided by lifetime. i.e. Does the eco-footprint translate to personal expense? I have a compact sedan and no pets, so I have no clue how much either costs.

  20. I have to admit that I don’t know diddly about how to calculate a carbon footprint, but I am a veterinarian. And I’m calling bullshit on these people. They say that Fancy Feast is made from “premium cuts” of meat? Did they conclude that based on the name? And their alternative is to feed fish heads? That would be a great way to reduce your cat’s carbon footprint to zero, since raw fish contains high levels of thiaminase, an enzyme that breaks down the B vitamin thiamine. Cats on fish-heavy diets come in with neurological signs (e.g., seizures).
    So even though the skeptical interest in this article mostly centers on the environmental claims, it is also another example of faulty medical advice.

    We have been fighting to reduce the pet population for decades with spay/neuter programs, yet in the US we still have a huge overpopulation problem. The article makes it sound as if people didn’t own these animals they wouldn’t exist. That’s only true if we as a society decide we are willing to kill the surplus cats and dogs. It is a strategy that has been tried in the past and has failed. I would like to hear their solution.

    Steve: Per the ASPCA, the first year cost of a medium dog is 1500 dollars. The breakdown is available on their website. That is first year cost, not annual cost, because it assumes a healthy animal. An animal with a chronic disease will be much more expensive. Average lifespan for a dog that size is about 12 yrs.

  21. Here we go again, another BS carbon footprint calculation.

    First off, meat forms a mostly closed carbon cycle. The carbon in a piece of meat came from a source that was recently photosynthesised. That means it doesn’t add net CO2 to the atmosphere. Sure, there’s still the relative effect of methane vs. CO2 (at least until the methane breaks down) and the effect of fertilisers, but by and large the effect of a pet will be quite small.

    Victoria University is a good institution, but a little checking on Wikipedia indicates that the Vales are trained as architects, not environmental economists so they’re well outside their domain of expertise.

    davew:
    An emissions tax is easily the best method of dealing with a pollution problem like CO2, but unfortunately I can see no feasible way to create the robust international agreement that would be necessary to make it work. The best idea I can come up with is to throw some serious money at alternative energy technology to ry and lower the cost of moving away from hydrocarbons. If it gets cheap enough, abatement should become politically feasible.

  22. @James K:
    An emissions tax is easily the best method of dealing with a pollution problem like CO2, but unfortunately I can see no feasible way to create the robust international agreement that would be necessary to make it work. The best idea I can come up with is to throw some serious money at alternative energy technology to ry and lower the cost of moving away from hydrocarbons. If it gets cheap enough, abatement should become politically feasible.

    Unfortunately, China’s pig-headed unilateral descision to go for economic prosperity and progress in Kopenhagen (for China, obviously, and to hell with everyone else), basically tanked what could have become a cornerstone of any nation’s eco-tax initiatives: an international agreement on emission limits.

    I think we have about half a decade left to level off our emmissions. And I suspect China’s move will eventually bite them in the ass when their cheap products no longer meet our eco-standards (or at least, the added taxes for not meeting the standards counteract the cheapness).

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