Arnold Kling  

Dogs and the Environment

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John Whitehead discusses environmental taboos, including plastic bags and not cleaning up after your dog.

Actually, I think that where I live, at least 10 percent of dog-owners do not clean up after their dogs. But I want to raise an even larger question.

Which do you think takes a bigger toll on the environment, owning a dog, or owning an SUV? My bet would be on the dog. I'm thinking of all of the resources that go into dog food.

You could argue that children also consume a lot of resources, but that is different. A dog does not have the potential to discover a cure for cancer. A dog is not going to provide for you in your old age.

I personally have nothing against dogs. But it does seem to me that environmentalism inevitably points toward a policy of extermination of pet dogs. Unless environmentalism is simply hatred of industry.


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TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/797
The author at amcgltd in a related article titled Dog Day Economics writes:
    An interesting question: If as many factors are figured in as possible, which impacts the environment more, a dog or an SUV? It's not as simple a question as you'd at first think.... [Tracked on February 11, 2008 1:57 PM]
The author at Liberty Alone in a related article titled Dogs, SUVs and the Environment writes:
    Which is worse for the evironment? Which do you think takes a bigger toll on the environment, owning a dog, or owning an SUV? My bet would be on the dog. I’m thinking of all of the resources that go into dog food. I agree, it probably is the do... [Tracked on February 12, 2008 5:22 AM]
COMMENTS (58 to date)
spencer writes:

The price of an SUV compared to the price of a dog should reflect the comparative resources that go into the production of an SUV and a dog.

next compare the cost of keeping an SUV running --
maybe something on the order of a few hundred dollar per month for an SUV -- to the cost of maintaining a dog -- surely under a $100 per month on a generous basis and probably a lot lower.

These two quick comparisons off the top of my head
suggest that an SUV has a much bigger environmental toll.

Richard Pointer writes:

The case for dogs is one of the most easily made.

It is estimated that dogs extend human life and the evidence shows that they enrich it.

Additionally, dogs co-evolved with us meaning that we don't know how much of civilization we owe to their existence. Most breeds would likely not survive without us. And, since they co-evolved with us, we probably owe it to them to keep up our end of the bargain.

A simple question then remains. What is the marginal benefit of dogs vs the marginal benefit of no dogs? I would imagine that the scales are in the dogs' favor. Or if we eliminated dogs, would the world's global warming problem be elevated appreciably enough for us to make up for the lost joy dogs provide?

I think not.

Mason writes:

"I personally have nothing against dogs. But it does seem to me that environmentalism inevitably points toward a policy of extermination of pet dogs. Unless environmentalism is simply hatred of industry."

Environmentalism points towards the extermination of people much more than dogs, but the same arguments that save people save dogs.

There is nothing particularly great about finding the cure for cancer except that it improves people’s lives. Dogs do this all the time, in fact whenever you see someone with a dog you're seeing someone's live improved by that dog.

(Counter-argue here that this doesn't take into account the poop externality, for those that don't clean up afterwards)

"A dog is not going to provide for you in your old age."

Not in the same monetary way your children might, but my grandparent's dogs have given them far more joy over the past 20 years than the money my parents/ the gov. has given them.

nathan writes:

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Brad Hutchings writes:

I have two big dogs and one SUV. One dog is actually a product mascot, and is contributing significantly toward my current earnings. Combined, Bosco and Baby Girl require 30-35 plastic bags a week to clean up after them, as I live in a condo without a yard.

I'm curious how people will pick up after their dogs without plastic bags. I have considered creating a reusable hemp-based dog pick-up bag. It sure would be a huge seller at stores like Whole Foods. I also wonder how people will collect their household trash.

Mike Moffatt writes:

You're making a very bold claim here - that a dog consumes more than an SUV. Why don't you throw some numbers on the debate and see if this claim makes any sense whatsoever?

8 writes:

You can't eat an SUV.

donna writes:

Gosh, I'm sure people would just love me taking my SUV into hospitals and nursing care centers for therapy visits with the patients.

This is really stupid.

Mike Moffatt writes:

"Gosh, I'm sure people would just love me taking my SUV into hospitals and nursing care centers for therapy visits with the patients."

What, you've never heard of a therapy Jeep Wrangler?

This whole line of thinking strikes me as being unbelivably silly, as I discuss on my blog. The whole invoking 'resources' is a bit of a red-herring, but it isn't even a particularly good one. I think Spencer has the right idea - since it costs about 8 times more to "feed" an SUV than it does a dog, it seems difficult to make a case that the dog uses more resources.

Jared writes:

I think Mason makes a good point. Dogs don't provide for you monetarily, but they do provide benefits nonetheless. And you don't need to be old to enjoy them. My dog is about the only thing that guarantees that I will spend time outside every day, other than walking from the parking lot to my office or apartment. My dog ensures I get out of bed in the morning. He gives me something to smile about in an otherwise empty home. He gives me a way to meet new people.

Let's also consider the unseen effects of not having dogs. I currently spend, let's say, six hours a week walking or playing with my dog. How many resources would I expend to occupy myself for those six hours? How many resources are consumed for toys for children who would not be able to entertain themselves playing with their pet? How about the exercise equipment (or medical care) my father would likely buy in the absence of his daily dog walks? (Yes, I know he could walk without a dog, but in South Bend, that's not nearly as appealing.)

The "getting rid of dogs" argument is better suited to a Bastiat satire than serious consideration.

Richard Pointer writes:

I would make the same argument for SUV's.

But when you watch the daily traffic with one person in a huge 3 ton SUV, you don't think that maybe that is objectionable? That if we had better organized cities we wouldn't have to 'waste' fuel on lugging 3 tons of extra steel around that city?

There certainly is an argument to be made for descaling vehicles. It is a dilemma for people that would like to purchase smaller, lighter cars. With so much steel racing past it becomes dangerous to have a small vehicle. Certainly the argument can be made that the SUV race is a covert arms race, right?

Jody writes:

To muddy the waters - my family got an SUV to better transport our pet dog (115 lb German Shepherd) to various doggy events and on trips which in turn made it easier to take in a stray dog (95 lb German Shepherd) later.

Dog promotes purchase of SUV which promotes adoption of dog, thereby completing the circle of doggy-SUV life.

jon writes:

Over my dead body! I'd rather have a dog than be married to an American Woman. In fact, I'll teach my dog how to put a leash on an enviro-wacko, so my dog can walk it around the park. Don't worry, I'll teach my dog to teach the enviro-nut to clean up after his feminist self.

8 writes:

The "cost" of a dog should be compared to the marginal cost of an SUV versus a sedan or minivan.

Brad Hutchings writes:

That's what I'm talking about Jody! I got an SUV, a second car, so I could take my dog to dog beach (20 miles away) without making a mess of a my Mustang GT. Before the SUV, he was only allowed in the Mustang for trips to the vet and road trips, with all the seats meticulously covered with heavy duty blankets so he wouldn't scratch the leather.

Not long after I got the Blazer, I ended up driving it more and could take Bosco with me more often. And soon, I decided that I needed another dog. That never would have worked in the Mustang! Now, I use my SUV to pick up my friend's deaf dog and take him to the dog park or to a local lake to walk several times a week.

I love my dogs, my Blazer, plastic bags, and even an occasional cigar! Ain't America great!!

odograph writes:

"But when you watch the daily traffic with one person in a huge 3 ton SUV, you don't think that maybe that is objectionable? "

I understand that if they visit old people, or do a similar good deed (every five years), then it is "ok."

SC writes:

I recall an EconLog post not long ago discussing the localization of food production and household waste generated by American households vs. Mexican households. It cited that our means of production are very efficient in resource use because of the way byproducts are used for such things as pet foods.

John Pertz writes:

Arnold, you picked on two faiths with one simple insight. I think the better question is what group between the dog lovers and the environmentalists is more out of touch with reality?

Buzzcut writes:

Here in Chicago, the beaches on Lake Michigan are often closed a day or two after a thunderstorm becuase of all the crap, dog produced and otherwise, that streams into the lake from the storm.

To make matters worse, there are actual "dog beaches", where pooches can crap directly into Lake Michigan.

Yet Chicago is most worried about the expansion of BP's Whiting Refinery, which will slightly increase its emissions of ammonia and "suspended solids" in return for a major expansion to be able to refine Canadian Tar Sands.

Environmentalists are as irrational as any other voter.

lkatz writes:

"A dog does not have the potential to discover a cure for cancer. A dog is not going to provide for you in your old age."
So? what kind of an economist are you? So many people choose to have (and pay the costs!) dogs because they must bring some benefit to them!

Richard Pointer writes:

And you don't get things like these with dogs...

http://money.cnn.com/2008/02/11/autos/bc.apfn.fordrecall.ap/index.htm?cnn=yes

Ben Kalafut writes:

There are multiple environmentalisms, and I'm sure you can pick some convenient one that is anti-industry, but the environmentalism that says "internalize the externalities" would merely have people pay for the cost of both the SUV and the dog and, if necessessary, make a tradeoff between the one and the other.

Craig writes:

I got tired of walking in my neighborhood and seeing piles of dog poop that dog owners left behind. After researching a bit found out it is a problem in many communities. Using my background in e-learning development, I decided to create a brief educational and entertaining video addressing the messy problem . . .

Here is the link to the 2 minute video I created called The Poop Detective . . .

http://www.thepoopdetective.com


Help spread the word on The Poop Detective!

Troy Camplin writes:

ANd don't forget the animal right activists who think we shouldn't own pets. Most of them are also primarily anti-human more than pro-animal.

ZW writes:

Actually, you would be on less controversial ground if you used cats, at least outdoor cats. Let free, they are nothing but an invasive exotic species that severely harms local biodiversity. But I suppose it is harder to quantify that cost.

Troy Camplin writes:

Animal rights activists would object to dog ownership on many grounds. Though I think that they too are an example less of being pro-animal as being anti-human.

Samson writes:

"You could argue that children also consume a lot of resources, but that is different. A dog does not have the potential to discover a cure for cancer."

Kling says that children are different from dogs in their potential to innovate. Kling seems to imply that the a child's (or dog's) worth is derived from the worth of potential creations or innovations that result from the child's (or dog's) existence. But why is the cure for cancer worth anything at all to anyone, if a child's life is not worth anything intrinsically i.e. if a child's welfare isn't a matter of concern? Technological advances of any sort are intrinsically worthless. Their worth is derived from the net benefits they confer upon the group we use to make welfare calculations. But members of this group have to have their welfare weighted by some non-zero factor.

The quotation I cite suggests two things:
1) Children would be worthless if they had no potential to discover the "cure of cancer" (or other new technologies). Most people would consider it reasonable to extend this argument to adults, which of course would imply that adults who are unable to innovate are worthless. Certainly, one might take the stance there do not exist such uncreative individuals, that every single person has the potential to be a causal link in the chain the results in a major innovation. But the theoretical point remains. Furthermore, could dogs not also potentially be a such a causal link to an innovation? I think animals have been sources of inspiration to many people we would consider valuable. I'm sure Kling does not hold so extreme a view of the worth of an individual, but that does not alter the fallacy in the reasoning cited above. If one wants to define value of an individual recursively, claiming that his worth derives from the expected worth of his actions/existence to the next generation, one had better do so rigorously and with boundary/terminal conditions.
2) Dogs have a welfare (Pareto) weight of zero in an social planner's problem. This of course is only a manifestation of our present world-view. There was a time when the weights accorded to non-whites or non-males was very low, and perhaps the Kling-equivalent of this past age would have made a similar claim about these low-weighted people as he does about the intrinsic worthlessness of dogs. Of course, how much weight we ought give to the intrinsic welfare of a dog is not clear, but only the most robotic people would argue that this weight should be the same for dogs and SUVs. I do not think that the welfare of a mechanical device can even be defined, artificial intelligent systems aside. Arguably, the welfare of a dog is better understood, and certainly intuitive.


Finally, to comment upon the substance of the post, Kling pulls a Fermat by stating his discovery of a proof that "environmentalism inevitably points toward a policy of extermination of pet dogs"; I guess there isn't enough room in (at?) the margin.

Les writes:

Easy choice: environmentalists are pests, and dogs are wonderful companions. So save the dogs, exterminate the environmentalists.

Lord writes:

I am reminded of all the arguments that we should all become vegetarians for the same reason. There is more to life than how many people we can put on earth though, despite economists always seeming to be in favor of doing so.

Martin writes:

David Mackay's draft book gives estimates of equivalent 40kWh/d for a normal car, and 12kWh/d for a dog. I imagine an SUV would drag that figure up even more. Admittedly there's likely to be quite a range in dogs, but I can't see any but the most enormous of beasts eating more than three times the average.

Sigivald writes:

People seem to be confusing "toll on the environment" (aka "environmental impact") with "worth" (in the sense of what someone would pay for something), and also with "cost" (what someone does, in fact, pay, contrasted with worth as monetized position on the preference scale).

Let's not do either, if we're going to discuss the actual hypothetical, which is about environmental impact, rather than either preferences or expenses.

Thus we can not worry about the utility of dogs at, eg., providing companionship or making people in hospitals happy - because that isn't even being discussed.

Likewise, that - to paraphrase - "people value pets and thus expend resources on them" is not in question, nor was Mr. Kling suggesting the contrary either as a matter of fact or as a normative command.

(Now, someone who cares about minimising environmental impact would of course make a decision in that regard based on their preferences for lowering same, but to do that the impact has to be established in the first place.)

Bjorn writes:

You'll take my life before you take my dog.

JimVAT writes:

You can take my dogs when you pry the leash out of my cold, dead fingers. Of course, you'll be first prying my gun out of my other hand.

John writes:

One more thing:

How can you possibly argue that there is some present value to the proposition that your kid will cure cancer? We have maybe 6 billion children of some guy or another right now. How many of them have cured cancer? Yeah, but your kid is going to be the one. What do you suppose the expected NPV of that proposition is, because I'd probably be willing to place money on it right now that you are wrong.

John writes:

OK,

Last one -- I promise:

What possible relevance does you kid curing cancer -- like that is going to happen (see supra) -- have on environmental impact?

Maybe this is relevant to the total social cost, but has no bearing at all on the environmental cost.

Terrible.

muirgeo writes:

"Which do you think takes a bigger toll on the environment, owning a dog, or owning an SUV? My bet would be on the dog. I'm thinking of all of the resources that go into dog food."

Arnold Kling


I don't remember fighting any trillion dollar wars over dog food.

I'm also quite sure my dog doesn't disproportionately cause asthma flare ups in my neighbors kids.

Bodracir writes:

I am sorry, but this is a pretty dumb post. The blogger obviously woke up today and the idea just popped up in his mind "let's ridicule environmentalists by stating that dogs are more costly to the environment than SUVs". Of course, anti-environmentalists will take it face-value (I wouldn't be surprised to see posts in other blogs stating "dogs are more costly than SUVs" in the next few days). Where is the analysis? Nowhere to be seen... not even simple back-of-the-envelope math is provided in the post. As has already been commented in Marginal Revolution, total pet expenditures were $34 billion last year, while gas consumption was over $360 billion. That's only for gas; add SUV purchase and maintenance costs and the difference will give you an idea of just how absurd this post really is.

I don't see any proof here that "environmentalism is simply hatred of industry", but I do see some evidence that anti-environmentalism may be based on conjectures more than on hard evidence.

sph writes:

The subject of which is more environmentally adept, an SUV or a dog raises questions of all other things equal and of bounded rationality. When reading over the other blogs, bounded rationality was very evident. People who owned dogs vs. people who owned SUVs have shown two different markets, albeit they were both without figures that would show which market was the better one.

Figures may have shown that owning a dog often lasts longer than owning a SUV, which often gets traded in after a couple of years. So does the cost of the dog grow to be equal to the cost of the SUV? There are many different factors to consider, based on the positive and normative aspects of the situation. It is a hard question to answer because each individual will have their own situation, different costs, and opinions on the value of each (explicit vs. implicit costs).

fresh writes:

my dog drags home SUV owners and has dinner prepared by the time i get home from work (on my electric scooter).

charles writes:

You really didn't think this through, did you?

If you are thinking about the resources that go into dog food, the substance that keeps them running, then you must also take into account the resources that go into keeping SUVs running like oil. And you might as well add manufacturing them as well, since dog food pretty much accounts for the manufacture of new dogs.
Without any figures (which you did not supply either), I'd still posit that SUVs a a few orders of magnitude more consumptive than dogs.

Tom writes:

"The "cost" of a dog should be compared to the marginal cost of an SUV versus a sedan or minivan."

Bang on, otherwise the comparison is beyond stupid.

gb writes:

What a stupid nonsense! I could live well without a car but I can´t live without a dog. And look on the "toll on environment" brought about by homo sapiens? Should we (or Him) exterminate our own species?

John writes:

How many SUV's hang their head over the side of a dog with its tongue lolling about? At sixty miles an hour (might need a fast cat)?

A couple of tons of steel melted at a couple of thousand degrees to get it liquid, rolling it into sheets, stamping, transporting parts, assembly, welding, adding fabric and plastics from oil, and forming glass and mixing paint and chrome-like treatments, and some rubber tires. And all the refining and transport of fuels and lubricants and replacement parts? And getting a new SUV when they wear out before the dog?

Yeah, a bit more energy than a dog.

Much of the dog food is created from scraps of the human food industry (much like pet owners feed table scraps at home). So some savings from extending the sunk cost of the fuels, chemicals, and equipment used in farming the human food sources.

However, why not raise a pig or a chicken? Then you have both the benefits of a pet and food (at least more culturally acceptible and energy efficient food production than consuming a dog).

Extend the benefits by driving a car that gets 50% to 100% better fuel economy than your favorite SUV (not so hard as getting a hybrid or fuel cell vehicle until they are more widely available). And you'll have both a friend and transport.

Good luck.

timstevens writes:

Need to define "bigger toll on the environment" otherwise the conversation is useless.

However, I've never had an SUV shove its wet nose into my crotch while the owner sweetly says, "he's just being friendly"

aaron writes:

This thread is great support for Tyler's belief that the best comments are usually the first 5.

I think spencer is spot-on in thinking that $s translate almost perfectly into resourse consupmtion.

Immediately, scarcity comes to mind, but scarcity probably still translates into energy. The reason items are scarce is because of the resources needed produce or find them.

TokyoTom writes:

"I personally have nothing against dogs. But it does seem to me that environmentalism inevitably points toward a policy of extermination of pet dogs. Unless environmentalism is simply hatred of industry."

Arnold, you've just revealed yourself, not as a rational economist, but as a spear-chucking partisan. Welcome to the Yanomami tribe! Rather than consider whether there are any serious externalities (or rent-seekers who manipulate the state to protect the benefits of such externalities), let's just hate those who bring messages that we don't want to listen to, simply because the messengers don't offer solutions that we like!

Care to join the watermelon (green of the outside, red on the inside) -hating club at the Mises blog? I'm sure they'll have you as an honorary member!

I gave some of them this little send up on their frustration over climate change.

It's so convenient to find someone easy to dismiss, like enviros, while ignoring others in the "establishment" who make the same arguments. Seen this by Chase, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley on "The Carbon Principles", by the way?

DB writes:

I think it's safe to say that the amount of water and electricity required simply to manufacture a motor vehicle substantially exceeds the resources used to support a dog over a ten to fifteen year lifespan. And that's before you've even turned the ignition key once.

John Tutt writes:

What do you think takes a larger toll on the environment, writing a book or maintaining an oral history? While I have nothing against writers (what an adult does in the privacy of their own home is private, after all), it does seem to me that environmentalism inevitably points toward the obsolescence of writing as a profession.
[caustic reply to a specious argument, in case you're wondering]

tde writes:

"A dog does not have the potential to discover a cure for cancer. A dog is not going to provide for you in your old age."

Nor will a dog engineer genocides that kill millions of people.

And we've had several genocides so far and no cure for cancer yet, by the way.

windyridge writes:

I'm with Richard Pointer and all the others that recognize the value of dogs to humans.

unclesmedley writes:
Old Cloots writes:

My dog could kick your ankle biter's ass...

Dan writes:

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Jeff writes:

I'm not sure which uses more resources, but I want to respond to the comments that argue that because an SUV costs more to maintain, then it must use more resources. This is not a valid argument. One of the major challenges to environmental sustainability is that we don't pay a fair price for environmental resources. But, I guess, regardless, the SUV still has more major environmental costs that you don't pay a fair price for when you drive it: the damage you cause to the global climate with your CO2, the species that went extinct so that the metal and oil could be extracted from the ground, the species that went extinct when we built the roads we drive on, etc. I imagine dog food has some ecological footprint for the corn meal and horse skin that they made it out of, but I can't imagine how it could approach that of an SUV.

Jobonga writes:

Isn't dog food made from the meat of old decrepit horses? And industrial biproducts? Did you know 39,090 gallons of water are used to manufacture one car? Says the EPA. A few Google searches prove you shouldn't trust your gut, Arnold Kling. Dogs are masters of efficiency.
Clearly you stepped in poop and you blogged angry.

Gale writes:

Each pound of a pet produces as much co2 each year as driving my wife's car 240 miles . If you have a 50-pound dog that is like driving 12,000 extra miles each year or about a quarter million miles during it's life-time.

TLH writes:

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