Arnold Kling  

Dogs: I Take it Back

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When I wrote,


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 was almost surely wrong.

However, if you believe that carbon is underpriced, so that carbon-intensive consumption (the so-called "carbon footprint") is a negative externality, then there is a large negative externality associated with dog ownership.

My guess is that people intuitively over-estimate the harm caused by SUV's, particularly when the alternative is a car that consumes at least 50 percent as much gas. My guess is that people intuitively ignore any green-hostile aspects of owning a dog.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Mike Moffatt writes:

I'm glad to see you have taken it back.

"However, if you believe that carbon is underpriced, so that carbon-intensive consumption (the so-called "carbon footprint") is a negative externality, then there is a large negative externality associated with dog ownership."

I expect that you would be surprised that there are a fair number of people in the environmental movement who would, in fact, agree with this assessment. They would probably say:

---

You're absolutely correct. Because of that, there are a number of measures we need to take:

First, we should require all dog food packaging to contain a label indicated the carbon footprint of the food. (The EU has been considering this idea for all food).

Secondly, wherever possible, we should require that all dog food be manufactured within 100 miles of where it is sold, to reduce the carbon footprint of the food.

---

Do you really want the extremist end of the environmental movement to agree with your assessment? Have you thought through the unintended consequences here?

Arnold Kling writes:

Mike,

How do you know that requiring local manufacture would reduce the carbon footprint? What if it requires cutting down local trees, or manufacturing food in energy-wasting facilities?

Mike Moffatt writes:

"How do you know that requiring local manufacture would reduce the carbon footprint? What if it requires cutting down local trees, or manufacturing food in energy-wasting facilities?"

We don't know that - we don't know that at all. That's why they're called *unintended* consequences.

But I suspect it's the likely policy outcome if people believed your argument enough to demand action.

Lord writes:

We all know the largest source by far, people living a modern lifestyle.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Secondly, wherever possible, we should require that all dog food be manufactured within 100 miles of where it is sold, to reduce the carbon footprint of the food.

I don't think Mike was saying he thought this, but regardless, it's an insane suggestion. I would bet that the carbon used by a typical consumer to visit the store and pick up the dog food is more than that used in all stages of production and delivery transportation of the food to the retail outlet. You can amortize a lot of miles over 10,000 bags of dog food.

At any rate, am I the only one to notice the utter silliness of the "carbon footprint" metaphor? Who among us tiptoes around everything except for the weak, the overly sensitive, and the generally scared? If a bunch of guys are hanging around, does the guy with the smallest feet get the admiration of his peers? Um, definitely not. Is Shaquille O'Neal the devil incarnate because of his size 22s? Or do most people marvel over the physical specimen he is?

joe writes:

A couple of points you leave out:
1. What type of dog are we talking about? My dog is a thirteen pound Rat Terrier. He kills rodents that we hate, too. We had a large tree that was stripped by a squirrel. It died. Now Mike kills the squirrels, protecting trees, and thus having a positive impact on carbon. He's the economy model of the dog world consuming only about 3/4 cup of food a day, while the lab would be more like the Hummer of the dog world.

2. I don't drive to the store to buy dog food. I buy it when I'm there getting my food. No carbon footprint there.

3. Mike is cuter than you are. I promise, he is.

carl writes:

Dogs don't cause carbon footprints, people do. Tax people, they cause tons of negative externalities. Dog ownership is probably the least of their problems.

Arnold Kling writes:

In case you are new to this blog, I am a global warming skeptic, and I share my co-blogger's view that the negative externalities of the private sector pale in comparison to the negative externalities created by those who purport to know better than the market.

I just brought up the dog issue because I suspect that there are a lot of dog-owning folks who think that because they drive Priuses that they are not responsible for lots of needless greenhouse gas emissions.

Derek Scruggs writes:
I suspect that there are a lot of dog-owning folks who think that because they drive Priuses that they are not responsible for lots of needless greenhouse gas emissions.

Can you please introduce me to some of these people? I live in on one of Toyota's top markets for Priuses (Boulder, CO), and the sense I get is not a feeling of superiority. Rather, most people here seem to feel guilty that they drive at all. My wife is from the soon-to-be world's largest emitter (China) and she and her family are the most frugal people I've ever met - no plastic bag goes wasted, no scrap of paper unrecycled, no food needlessly rotting in the dumpster. We ride the bus to work.

Do you think the average Prius owner is more likely or less likely to behave that way? (We don't own one.)

I like empirical data too. This seems to be just a game of questioning motives.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Derek,

Knock yourself out with your anguish. I don't feel the least bit guilty about my lifestyle, which includes 1 SUV, 1 sportscar, and 2 dogs. I've been fortunate to have had a near front row seat back when the atmospheric scientists had their panties in a bunch about CFCs and pushed a draconian political solution with no regard to costs or consequences. Greenhouse gases is just that on steroids.

I'll give credit where it is due though... Toyota does manage to make the ugliest car ever, emasculate its performance, tack on $5K to the price, and convince tens of thousands of sex starved husbands that it's the pathway to ever getting any action again in their lives. When marketers latched onto green, I knew it had totally jumped the shark. I am amazed that so many consumers literally buy into all the politically correct claims!

[Comment edited for inappropriate language.--Econlib Ed.]

Lone Ranger writes:

I would think that horses are much worse than SUVs for the environment.

Hugo Pottisch writes:

You were not that wrong. Forests and woods have been cleared of natural predators so that avoid losing a few livestock objects. But our cities are full with natural carnivores like house wolves aka dogs and cats. These carnivores eat factory farmed animals that their ape owners who have never seen daylight, sleep in their own shit and cannot move around.

The economic and ecological inefficiencies of livestock agriculture are enormous and do carry, indeed, more bad externalities than a mere SUV. One one hand - we only get 20% back of 100% invested (not mere calories but also nutrients when compared to fruits and vegetables). The same holds true for water, oil, CO2 emissions etc.

As long as we do not respect natural laws of sustainability and ecosystems (markets) on a basic level - there are somewhat "unnatural" alternatives for responsible dog ownership (aka sustainable). Our four dogs are vegan and have been from birth (never received a single dose of Vit D3 for example). As they are not vegetarians by nature as apes are - they also get extra taurine and l-carnitine amino acids to their food. Amino acids that the species that kills the most animals on earth, an ape, does not need for health. Quite the contrary.

We first heard about this via the fur industries where most captive minks and foxes are fed with soy and supplements (fish powder). Then again - we also feed cows to cows and then eat the cows so where is the problem?

Before humans started intervening with the natural market like mad marxists - there was competition and cooperation and hence flexibility due to survival of the most adoptable and fittest. Only the healthy and strong prey animals escaped and only the weak and sick got eaten. The gene pool of species was hence strong as there was no intervention.

Then came the tiny spears that no animal has evolved for and we started the kill the big and strong (little metal bullets traveling at the speed of sound). The leaders of the packs. We destroyed cultures, networks and markets and worst of all weakened genetic health and evolution. The price for arbitrary market intervention.

Don't you shy away from your blog post - Arnold you were spot on.

Mr. Liberal writes:

[Comments removed for rudeness. Name-calling, including repeatedly calling people stupid or retarded, is not acceptable on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Robert Speirs writes:

Speaking of hybrids, I traveled around Europe twice last year and saw not one single hybrid. Why is that? Are Priuses even sold over there? Are the turbocharged diesels that good? If so, why do hybrids exist over here? They have a lot of dogs in Europe, too. As proven in the numerous sieges European cities have gone through in the last few centuries, dogs are an emergency food supply - maybe that's it.

aaron writes:

Actually, yeah the diesels are that good. However, hybrid diesels will probably be that much better. Expect to see the market move in that direction, plug in hybrids with diesel engines.

I believe a lab at stanford can get over 40% mechanical efficiency out of a diesel. That's competitive with the 50% efficiency of a fuel cells, without the heat disipation problem.

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