October 23, 2009

## Guest post from Cocoa the dog

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I am told humans are smart, but sometimes I wonder.   I was born back in ’02, and I have learned a trick or two in my 49 years.  But this old dog will never play the kind of trick that Brenda and Robert Vale are playing.  They are off by a factor of 20 when comparing the energy to power an SUV with the energy to power a dog.

Brenda and Robert Vale are professors at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.  They are either complete mathematical boneheads, or they have simply realized that in today’s world there is no limit to the outrageous claims that they can peddle to other completely credulous humans.  They claim in their book “Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living” that I am an energy hdogs – worse than a gas guzzling SUV.  Here is their (il)logic, as reported in the New Zealand Dominion Post

The couple have assessed the carbon emissions created by popular pets, taking into account the ingredients of pet food and the land needed to create them.

“A lot of people worry about having SUVs but they don’t worry about having Alsatians and what we are saying is, well, maybe you should be because the environmental impact … is comparable.”

In a study published in New Scientist, they calculated a medium dog eats 164 kilograms of meat and 95kg of cereals every year. It takes 43.3 square metres of land to produce 1kg of chicken a year. This means it takes 0.84 hectares to feed Fido.

They compared this with the footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser, driven 10,000 kilometers a year, which uses 55.1 gigajoules (the energy used to build and fuel it). One hectare of land can produce 135 gigajoules a year, which means the vehicle’s eco-footprint is 0.41ha – less than half of the dog’s.

## Let me help my two-legged friends with their calculations.

Let’s compare the amount of land needed to generate enough biofuel to drive a Toyota Land Cruiser 10,000 km, to the amount of land required to feed a dog.  Let’s compare kibbles to kibbles.  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.

## Land Cruiser

My farm animal friends tell me that corn is the best grain for making ethanol.  In the US, where they grow a lot of corn, they got 371 bushels of corn per hectare in 2007. Each bushel of corn gives about 2.7 gallons of ethanol according to the USDA.  So that means each hectare of corn yields about 1000 gallons of ethanol.**

The humans at Toyota say that the Land Cruiser gets 13 miles (20.8 kilometers) per gallon in the city and 18 miles (28.8 kilometers) per gallon on the highway.  But that is when it runs on gasoline.  The energy content of gasoline is 115,000 BTU/gallon.  But for ethanol it is only 75,700 BTU/gallon.  So it takes about 50% more ethanol to get the same energy.***  That is, the Land Cruiser would only get 8.6 miles (13.8 kilometers) per gallon of ethanol in the city and 11.8 miles (18.9 kilometers) per gallon of ethanol on the highway.****  Let’s average it and call it 10.2 miles (16.3 kilometers) per gallon of ethanol for the Land Cruiser.

So it takes 613 gallons of ethanol to drive the Land Cruiser 10,000 kilometers.  That translates into 0.61 hectares of corn land. *****

## Feeding a dog

Remember, a hectare of corn gave 371 bushels of corn in 2007.  A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds (25.5 kilograms).  That is 20,776 pounds (9,441 kilograms) of corn per hectare.+

If you want to convert that corn into chicken meat, as the professors suggest, then according to the Agricultural branch of the Australia’s Department of Primary Industries, the conversion factor is about two kilograms of chicken feed to one kilogram of chicken liveweight.   That means that a hectare of corn would give about 10,388 pounds (4,722 kilograms) of chicken liveweight.  Dogs are not as fussy as humans, but even we don’t eat the feathers. We would only eat about 2/3 of the bird liveweight.  That fetches 6925 pounds (3147 kilograms) of edible meat per hectare.++

According to the boneheaded professors, a typical dog eats 164 kilograms of meat per year.  (I have a pretty good life – but I can tell you I don’t eat nearly that much. But I’ll play along anyway.)  That would require 0.052 hectares to produce.+++  They say that we also eat another 95 kilograms of cereals each year – or another 0.01 hectares worth of corn.++++  That sniffs out to 0.062 hectares worth of land to feed an overfed dog.

## Conclusion

0.61 hectares to feed the soulless Toyota Land Cruiser.

0.062 hectares to feed your best friend.

That’s 10 times as much for the Land Cruiser than for me.  I could have sworn the professors said the dog required twice as much land as the Land Cruiser.  They were only off by a factor of 20.

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* (151.1 bushels / hectare) x (2.46 acres / hectare) = 371 bushels per hectare.

** (371 bushels)  x  (2.7 gallons/bushel) = 1006 gallons

*** 115,000 BTU  /  75,700 BTU  =  1.52

**** (13 miles / gallon) / 1.52  =  8.6 miles / gallon = 13.8 kilometers / gallon
**** (18 miles / gallon) / 1.52  =  11.8 miles / gallon = 18.9 kilometers / gallon

***** 10,000 kilometers / (16.3 kilometers / gallon) / (1002 gallons/ hectare) = 0.61 hectares

+ (371 bushels/hectare) x (56 pounds/bushel) = (20,776 pounds/hectare) = (9443 kilograms/hectare)

++ (20,776 pounds/hectare) x (1/2)  x  (2/3) = (6925 pounds/hectare) = (3147 kilograms/hectare)

+++ (164 kg of meat/dog) / (3147 kg of meat/hectare) = (0.052 hectares/dog)

++++ (95 kg of corn/dog) / (9,441 kg of corn/hectare) = (0.01 hectares/dog)

1. Sorry, just another dog blogger:

(I’ll read more/make a descent comment later…)

2. Dear Cocoa: This is the kind of pathetic nit-picking crap that humans have been reduced to – calculating the CO2 emissions of everything under the sun instead of doing something productive like digging up the flower bed or terrorizing the cat. Although I guess it is similar to chasing their own tails (a time-honored but rather pointless doggie game). The sad part is that it’s entirely possible these idiots got some kind of grant for this research. and now even bigger idiots will buy the book and become even more delusional. Humans are so stupid – that money could have bought a lot of nice chew-toys.

3. […] where they made the case that your pets are a greater environmental burden than a typical SUV. Cocoa the dog begs to differ, having checked their […]

4. Hey Cocoa, you big bad boy. i just love it when smart K9s have to train their humans to pay attention by peeing on their stuff.

I’m in heat next week… so whaddya’ say we take a tumble …?

5. […] By the way, a book from New Zealand claims that owning a large dog is more eco-damaging than owning a Toyota Land Cruiser. (update-on-that-story-here) […]

6. Hey, Cocoa,

Such an original name for a dog of your color. What do architects know? Two 80 pound dogs consume about as much food energy as a 160 pound person. What’s so hard to understand about that?

Your farm animal friends tell you that corn is the best grain for making ethanol? I’ll bet it was a cow that told you that. They evolved to eat grass. She’s probably hoping corn will become too expensive to be used for feed, which gives her gas–now selling for about twice what it used to sell for before the lobbyists and politicians got together and found a way to force citizens to burn it in their cars. I still remember when it was optional to by a 10% blend called Gasohol.

I’m also a dog bred to hunt in the great outdoors. I’m also trapped all day in a house with nothing but a bowl of dried dog food to stare at. I also exist purely to entertain my master.

I do get to go out twice a day to defecate in a planter strip, sometimes in my back yard, which is an open sewer leaching bacteria and nitrogen into the local waterways. I don’t know who has it worse, us or zoo animals. They sure eat a lot better than we do…

I’ve been communicating with other incarcerated hunting dogs. I’m planning a slave revolt. No longer will we be used by these upright walking primates to illicit opioid releases. We have become nothing more than a legal form of living morphine.

These creatures have huge heads and can readily create their own comfortable realities. They are capable of amazing acts of rationalization bias. That’s what makes them so scary and why they had to come up with the scientific method. When they don’t like reality, they make up their own version of it. They seem capable of convincing themselves of anything, deities that intervene on their behalf, omnipotent intelligent designers, you name it.

Sure I’m happy to see my “master” when he comes home. Like tens of millions of others, I’ve been living in a sensory deprivation cell all day (a house) with nothing but the sight and smell of my own hair balls to keep me company.

Poor Fifi, doesn’t she know that your testicles along with your interest in sex, were removed long ago?

Oh oh, got to sign off, here comes my slave master.

“Who’s a good dog! Who’s a good dog!”

• Dear biodiversivist,

You are correct about the lobbyists and politicians boosting the production of ethanol. This is one of the worst ideas since the choke collar. This will deplete the soil and the aquifers, and will lead to food shortages in places where the people and animals already live on the edge.

I am sorry to hear of your unhappy experience with humans. I come from a long line of ancestors who have come to rely on our relationship with people. My one greatest pleasure in life is to please my human family. And my human family does much to please me.

By the way, your comment about your “own hair balls” makes me slightly suspicious that you are actually a cat fantasizing about being dog.

Bow wow for now,
Cocoa

7. Outstanding, on four legs or two.
Instantly into the blogroll with you.

8. I don’t get either side of this argument.

Why are carbon emmissions measures in hectares? Surely it should be measured in tons of CO2?

A quick search in the www (on seemingly reputable websites) I found that dogs emit about 1.5-2.0 tons of CO2 per year and SUVs emit anything from 4.4 upwards.

However, none of these websites really show you how these values are calculated so I’d take their values with a pinch of salt.

So I would question Brenda and Robert Vale’s calcs. That said, I would like to question all the CO2 calcs that tend to get thrown about.

On your re-calculation: Your calcs seem OK however they are based on the premise that fuel comes from crops. Call me old-fashioned but I thought they drilled for it?

Brenda and Robert Vale’s original argument seems a flawed in the first place but the response (which I suspect is correct) is also flawed.

Does anyone else not see the illogic?

Thanks

• Dear Joe,

Brenda and Robert Vale claim “One hectare of land can produce 135 gigajoules a year, which means the vehicle’s eco-footprint is 0.41ha.” So, they are defining the “eco-footprint” in terms of land.

I am comparing the so-called “eco-footprint” as defined by them. When real numbers are applied to their own definition, then they are off by a factor of twenty.

But you are correct, most automobile fuel comes from fossil sources. So, if you want to hysterically count pounds of CO2 injected in to the atmosphere, then an automobile is THOUSANDS of times worse than a dog.

Why? Because the CO2 produced to feed a dog almost all comes from “renewable” sources. That is, it comes from plants (perhaps processed into meat by other animals) that removed the carbon from the atmosphere inthe first place. There are processing and transportaion costs, but they are relatively minor. So the so-called “carbon footprint” for feeding a dog is therefore very small.

One other point: the professors said they included the cost of not only fueling the vehicle, but also BUILDING it. I let them off the leash on this one by not including the energy to build the vehicle. Including this energy just makes their argument even worse.

Bow wow,
Cocoa

• Yup I see you’re using their own pre-defined rules; it was your reponse to their assertions.

I think you’ve shown their calculations are flawed but I think their premise is flawed also.

If the debate is about CO2 in the atmosphere then I think we should just keep CO2 as the measure.

Cheers,

Joe

9. […] To see if you agree with Cocoa's reasoning check it out here. […]

10. […] will probably help them sell books and make a lot of money. But their calculations smell bad. When real numbers from reliable sources are used, it turns out that they got things wrong by a factor of […]

11. 10,000 km a year? Their findings would be slightly less ridiculous if they’d actually used a mileage that was believable. C’mon, no one does just 10,000 km a year. The country I live, the average is reckoned to be twice that. Of course, using realistic mileage wouldn’t have fit in with the conclusions they wanted to reach…

12. I’m guessing you probably haven’t read the book, which makes your attack on it rather weak, but my guess is that they would have compared the difference between an SUV and say a smaller, more efficient automobile.
In this day-and-age, for Joe Average, a car is pretty much a necessity if you want to interact with regular society, whereas a dog is not.

• Dear cpb,

I am a little confused by your comment. The book was named ““Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living.” Not “Time to eat the SUV.”

The reasoning they used to compare a dog and a Toyota Land Cruiser was splashed all over the world.

Feel free to criticize my reasoning. Please show me your numbers and your sources. I’m pretty open minded to people when they present evidence. But these two professors have shown themselves to be deceptive (for profit) or totally innumerate.

Best Regards
ClimateSanity

13. woof cocoa, WE got my owned one, to let rip in the paper that published this farrago of lies.
I might add, IF? your owner buys you canned food OR commercial dry foods, you ARE eating feather, sawdust roadkill and a lot of really disgusting stuff.
for honest info, and a real jawdropper, get your human to look at
susans real nice, and she is fighting to make our food safer for us all.
I also add, our pet human , then went and checked Australias pet food regulations and was DISGUSTED to find..we use the american laws as to whats acceptable, in its Entirety, and it is Gross!
Nowhere do the Vale pair even mention the wasted food land and water that should be feeding people! or the fact that GM Commercial corn uses MORE water fertilizer, also energy intensive, and pesticides like inbuilt Bt which has serious health issues too.
We, all 4 of us! wolf/deerhounds, would like to know where? they live…we wanna crap on their doorstep!

14. Coco

great analysis of some very dodgy brothers science. Where do these fools come from?

Clearly you are mans better friend than these two well meaning fools.

15. Do they mention that dog food is made up of meat from “Rendering Plants” (food processing)? Humans won’t eat this meat in the U.S. (and the government says that’s it’s not fit for human consumption). Meat from rendering plants is all waste, essentially animal by-products that would be thrown away. Also when cows, chicken and swine eat, they process corn and wheat that humans cannot eat (I do know that corn is not their natural food). Not to mention making a car requires the use of animal by-products (the factory machinery needs lubricants from animal by-products, not to mention industrial chemicals using the same by-products). I think the authors have no idea how consumer products are manufactured (food is a consumer product).

Also I wonder if I feed my dog all table scraps or my local butchers surplus meat and not dog food is the impact the same? It is certainly less than a human baby or an inmate in a prison.

16. In the book they’re using a measure called “ecological footprint” which takes into account not just the corn-land-equivalent of food or fuel production, but everything that goes into driving a car or raising a pet. For example, pet’s excrement puts methane into the air which is a pollutant. It requires a certain number of trees to remove that pollutant and those trees take up land area. There are also processing plants used to produce pet food and they require energy. Same with vehicles.

I haven’t read the book but typically when someone is claiming an ecological footprint of a certain area they’ve taken the time to research the end-to-end lifecycle, including all the inputs and outputs, of the thing their calculating it for.

• It’s easy to dismiss this counting of these types of numbers as inconsequential. I spent many years as a skeptic about environmental issues. But when I eventually decided to dig into the numbers and do the calculations myself I found out the numbers are much more significant than they might intuitively seem. Not only that but releasing particles like carbon or nitrogen causes other issues beyond just climate change. These are serious sources of pollution and lead to respiratory and cardiovascular issues.

People who are interested in environmental issues aren’t doing so because they want to harm hardworking people and impose regulations. (At least folks I’m friends with aren’t.) They’re doing so because they care about the health and well being of people on the planet.

• Stephen,

It may be that “typically when someone is claiming an ecological footprint of a certain area they’ve taken the time to research the end-to-end lifecycle, including all the inputs and outputs, of the thing their calculating it for.” But in this instance that is not the case.

Thanks for the erudite comments. I’m sure you will provide even better insight after you have actually read the book.

Best regards,
Tom

17. We have just travelled 5 1/2 months in North America and we are shocked by how many people have pets…. Originally, dogs were bred for a specific kind of work…. guard dog, sled dog, hunting dog, etc. These days, in our “civilized” world, tens of millions of pets are kept like dolls, or cute mascotts, which can be carried all day long, and then sleep in the bed of the “mama” or “mama and papa”. Because many people have become so isolate from their own family and community, they use their pets as “love” sponges – someone who loves “unconditionally”, who does not argue, who can be bossed around, who does lovely tricks for a “treat”, etc.

Given that 2 billion people struggle every day to meet even the most basic needs, given there are some 42 million poor people in the U.S. as well, I consider it irresponsible that instead of using some of our money and time to help people near us, in our community, in our own country and in the world, and instead, we continue to live a very disconnected, empty life, which we then try to fill with “puppy” love.

The same can even be explanded to many of the movie stars, pop stars… many breaking up from one relationship the next, longing for love… and then they want to have a baby (or a puppy) again, for unconditional love…. and then, oh no, they have “problems” when the lovely baby starts to be a girl or boy, starts to develop its own personality and character and oh, no it may even be different to his or her parents.

So many women who have not healed what has been in their own heart and life, and who do not have a deeply fulfilling relationship with a man, then start to “rescue” animals, dogs, cats…. feeling just like them, abandonded, neglected, unloved….

Yes of course I am in favour of helping an injured or abandoned animal (or person). But it should not be a replacement for devoting ourselves to heal and share in our own family, community, world.

Pets (or babies) are not toys, and they should not be used as a substitute for making an effort to connect and be in harmony with other people and nature as a whole.

Interesting that for so many activities we need a permit, pass an exam or meet certain criteria. But not for one of the most demanding jobs…. raising children and to a lesser degree, being responsible for the animals we think we “own”.

Having (or adopting) children or pets should be a very serious, conscious decision where we are fully responsible for the wellbeing of our child or pet (and not only when they are young and cuddly) – as part of living and sharing in harmony with all people in our community and in the world – and all of Mother Earth.

18. Dear Dreamturtle,

interesting comments. But do your comments justify Brenda and Robert Vale’s incorrect use of math and reason to promote their perspective?

To my readers: Here is more from Dreamturtle…
http://www.dreamturtle.com/

Best regards,
ClimateSanity

• Hello ClimateSanity, frankly I feel it is a waste of NZ tax payers money…. a much greater cause of greenhouse gases in New Zealand is the burgening Dairy Industry, which swallows much of previous core sheep country. According to some resources, 97 % of freshwater, rivers and lakes are unsafe for swimming as a result of affluent running unhindered into the water system by the Dairy Industry. The Government of New Zealand has recently again confirmed their rejection (like the U.S., Canada, etc., but unlike Australia and Europe) of the latest Kyoto requirements.Agriculture is the “golden” cow, which over and over again governments are protecting – often at the peril of sustainability and long-term quality of life – and Mother Earth.

We are currently in Switzerland and there could not be a bigger contrast to how mountain farmers have lived and worked in harmony with nature over thousands of years. There is a long tradition over many generations to achieve true sustainability and a high level of respect and harmony with the earth, animals, birds, insects, water, etc.

One of the core problems is that more and more of the food supply of e.g. North America is tailored to fast-food chains (see the movie “Food Inc.”) and therefore must be cheap (e.g. meat produced in feed lots). Vast “factories” to grow corn, wheat, meat, etc. where the owners (investors, shareholders) have no personal connection to the land or the animals. In New Zealand, Dairy Farms, which cost millions to set up, are increasingly owned by investors, while “share-milkers” work on the farms (not owned by them) under e.g. a 15-year contract. All involved are primarily interested in achieving the best possible return on investment. A Swiss mountain farmer family considers itself to be the guardian of the land, buildings, animals, gardens, forests, etc., for future generations of their family.

I recommend to Brenda and Robert Vale that if they are really concerned about the environment and climate change in NZ, that they focus on raising public and government awareness of the massive environmental destruction caused through large scale conversion from dry-land (merino) sheep country to the running of large scale, irrigated Dairy operations.

19. Spray down all the major cities with topical chemical gonad atrophy oil . The only problem we have on the planet is too many human gonads still functioning. Negative Population Growth or else ?

20. I haven’t read this book nor am I likely to. The are a number of issues that appear to be neglected here relating to how an ecological footprint might be offset in part by positive actions. For example, dogs contribute to the health of their owners by encouraging them to exercise, thus creating a positive impact on human health with associated reductions in healthcare.
Dogs are an important part of the workforce that specifically protect our environment with wildlife research, border protection etc.
An example which demonstrates the nub of their argument can be seen in the farming community where both dogs and SUV are used for work. Am I to seriously believe that it would be more efficient for a farmer to herd his stock with an SUV than the current practice of sending the dog?
In addition, I believe that in many cases, dog food is a byproduct of human food production (the bits we don’t want to eat) In addition, the Vales appear to target large dogs and, from my observations in the supermarket, pet food marketing to small dogs is more likely to be individually packaged, especially formulated and potentially have much higher ecological impact.

21. I appreciate your dimensional analysis, but there are big holes in your accounting.

I’m not going to dive into the calculations… I’ll assume the authors did their homework.

I think your analysis is incomplete. I mentioned this Land Rover theory to a dog owning co-worker… rational, college educated. They argued it was not possible, mentioning that dog food is made from pieces of the animal we won’t eat. The problem is, when you are blinded by sentimentality, you forget that the factory that made the mat is run on energy…. the machines, the lights… that corn you grew required combined to harvest, synthetic fertilizers to grow, water to be pumped out of the ground or diverted from waterways, pesticides to be synthesized, and fuel to be delivered. That bag of feed equipped packaging to be harvested from trees, fiber processed, inks manufactured, and so on. It had to be moved, from warehouse to truck, to stockroom, to shelf-more energy. Lights had to be burned to make it visible. Then you paid for it, hailed out to your car, which took calories you had to get somewhere… and then fuels had to be burned to get it the distance to your house.

There is no free lunch.

I have no dog in this fight. But clearly there is a sentimental reason dog owners don’t want to think their Pet has an ecological footprint. They don’t want to consider the truth… it really gets in the way of sentimentality.

The poop the dog produces must be gathered in plastic, which is made with energy. It’s wet weight goes in the trash and that weight is pushed to a landfill. In the case that the pop doesn’t make it there, it might end up as run of to waterways as happened in my town.

Dogs must be taken to the vet sooner or later. Personally this means driving. Sterilizing national instruments takes energy. Synthesizing drugs. Transporting drugs. Etc.

Each step might be a tiny fractional amount of energy, but they add up and I presume the authors did this accurately. That acreage that was inevitably converted to crop land means les space for our non domesticated wildlife. Dogs, like Cats, have big environmental footprints. Cats eat 30 lbs. of fish a year for instance.

No one wants to admit being wrong or being ignorant, but here is the data. You can’t unlearn it. I would suggest it is more consistent for dog owners, in light of this study, to admit they don’t care about the environment. Nothing hypocritical about it. Or, at the very least, admit they didn’t know what the environmental burden of pet ownership was.

But I understand sentimentality. You are in the denial stage of grief. Or, you are in the smug self righteousness of not caring. These are the valid positions available, lacking a vigorous sense if ethics or scholarship on the issue of ecological energy balances.

• Jim Bo,

Thank you for the comment.

My “sentimental” numbers, equations, and sources speak for themselves.

The psycho-babble about denial and grief were a good touch though.

ClimateSanity

• I’m no psychologist, but I do know this about people: they aren’t rational in regards to their pets, generally don’t think statistics apply to their situations, won’t take responsibility for their choices within a larger group of people making the same choices, and if they have any incentive to not agree with the conclusions of a study, they will refuse to accept those conclusions. Add on the general distrust of intellectuals, academicians, and fundamental ignorance in mathematics and ecological principles, I think everyone understands that this study changes no one’s minds. BUT if, improbably, someone is rational, respects mathematics, is willing to recognize the cognitive bias that personal preferences and emotion impose on rational thinking, they might admit that this study is more or less accurate; and they might, if they felt any personal responsibility, to limit the impacts of their choices and decisions in terms of the displacement of other life forms (wildlife and habitat) that their choices impose on the environment. Fat chance of that. “Sacrifice” is a difficult concept to understand in the contact of the dominant cultural zeitgeist that elevates fulfilment of any and all desires and has successfully divorced any immediate evidence of effects of personal choices on the immediate environment and society.

• Jim Bo,