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Animal footprints

  [vote for,

So, according to a quick back-of-the-recycled-envelope guess, my carbon footprint is about the same as Devon, Arkansas or the Coldstream Guards. I really must stop leaving the trebuchet in 'standby' mode.

I can reduce my carbon footprint considerably by eating less meat and more (ie some) vegetables, and by numerous other means. I could also plant more trees, although there's a limit to how many orangeries a man can enjoy.

What I need is some kind of realistic target. I think it's unreasonable to expect me to achieve a zero carbon footprint, since many other animals surely have considerable carbon footprints of their own. I would like to know what they are.

I have been told (by QI, which is increasingly inaccurate as it ventures into scientific areas) that a dog has the same carbon footprint as a Range Rover. But of course that is for a _pet_ dog, whose food must be tinned and shipped and so forth and hitherfore.

So, where were we? Oh yes. An invention. I propose the construction of a table of carbon footprints for each species on Earth. That of an oak tree will be negative, whilst that of a panther will, presumably, be quite large.

Such a table will not only be a useful standard against which to judge a person ("We used to have the footprints of a pack of timber wolves but, since we started cycling to the airport, we're now only two thirds of tawny owl."), but will also tell us which species we can most usefully cull to reduce the net environmental impact. For instance, how many furry jaguars would I have to shoot in order to offset a 4.2 litre one?

MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 22 2013

Have you herd? http://www.ted.com/...climate_change.html
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Apr 22 2013]

EROEI on buildings https://www.google....w9V3c3TUDIY2_cNZ-xw
Page 10-11 for windows. [MechE, Apr 25 2013]


       That way madness lies, [bigs]. By the same token, I can reduce my carbon footprint by eating sufficient veal.   

       It's an interesting thought, though. Did you know that geese and swans both fart ethene, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas than methane? Which means that if I eat enough foie gras and swan-in-the-basket...   

       Fortunately, your entire argument is invalidated and undermined by your misspelling of 'carnivorous'.   

       The fact is, my predilection for meat is counted heavily against my carbon footprint. Thusfore, a purely carnivorous animal must have a monstrous carbon footprint (or I must have a small one). You can't have one rule for the rich and another for the ocelot.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 22 2013

       Well, at a pinch I'd be prepared to get one of my farmer johnnies to leave a gate open so that the Anguses can roam free for a couple of hours before I pick one of them off. Do you think that would help?   

       Also, all the grouse, partridge and ospreys that wind up on the buffet trolley are pretty much wild - wouldn't be much fun if they weren't.   

       The foie gras is a bit trickier, I'll admit, since geese at that end of the BMI scale don't take well to life in the wild. But the principal is the same.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 22 2013

       //Do you think that would help?//   

       Kind of, yes. Grass fed and finished beef has a lower carbon footprint than grain finished beef.
MechE, Apr 22 2013

       As far as I know, all beef (and indeed all dairy) is grass-fed.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 22 2013

       For the grass fed, I should have said grazing. Harvesting hay and delivering it is a carbon load.   

       Most beef (not dairy), however, is grain finished, meaning it spends the last few months of its life on a high intensity grain and supplement diet to bulk it up. This is generally not true for your local farm, but definitely is for most large commercial producers.   

       (I should also clarify that there is still some debate about the environmental impact difference between the two. Grain finished is ready sooner, and some people claim that makes up for the more energy intense food requirements)
MechE, Apr 22 2013

       ....And then you get silage, which is neither fish nor foul. That's not grass pretty much in the same way that cheese isn't milk.   

       Either way, cattle aren't exclusively grass-fed.
Custardguts, Apr 22 2013

       But this doesn't get us any closer to the question: what is the carbon footprint of a tiger?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 22 2013

       //carbon footprint//   

       Do you (any of you; that's a non-specific quotation) draw a distinction between "carbon that was already part of the biosphere" versus "carbon that was previously sequestered somewhere"?
Wrongfellow, Apr 22 2013

       //distinction between "carbon that was already part of the biosphere" versus "carbon that was previously sequestered somewhere"?//   

       As far as I can figure, a blue whale comes under both headings.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 22 2013

       I have nullified my carbon footprint by diverting the sewage from my housing tract to a handy pond, which is now a verdant and CO2 sequestering green.
bungston, Apr 22 2013

       It's reasonable to draw a distinction between fossil carbon and environmental carbon, but you need to do it at fairly deep levels. Remember that almost all products have a carbon footprint, and you typically don't control most of the chain.
MechE, Apr 22 2013

       There is a recent TED talk on desertification [link] that address the possibility that any carbon footprint we assign to a given critter will be based on incorrect assumptions.
The claim is that we blame livestock for CO2 emisions and desertification due to overgrazing when in fact our confining the massive grazing herds means no trampled grasslands to shade the soil holding in moisture and fertilizer for the next seasons growth.

       They may very well have lower than a neutral carbon footprint by binding up more carbon in re-growth than they produce.   

       Surely the best strategy is to keep carbon off of your feet in the first place?   

       I have seen sensible arguments that (to a first order of approximation) one’s carbon footprint is effectively determined by one's financial income / turnover. Whatever you do with your cash, whether you spend it on petrol for the jag, or organic asparagus, or invest it in your Coutts savings account, it eventually gets used to pay for oil which is burned. So the less money you are handling, the less oil that gets burned, simple as that.
pocmloc, Apr 23 2013

       Hey, farmers! You can cut your carbon footprint by feeding cows other bits of cows. More prions just means extra protein, right?
mitxela, Apr 23 2013

       I think that wild animals will generally have a "carbon footprint" of zero by definition. If the carbon is in the ecosystem then it isn't fossil carbon. It's the overall release to the ecosystem of sequestered carbon which is counted in the carbon footprint.
The exceptions would be animals like a tiger which lives in the wild but prays on domestic animals (which eat crops grown with fertiliser produced using fossil fuel).
Loris, Apr 23 2013

       I'm not so sure I agree with [pomloc]'s assertion. It just feels like shitty anti-elitist diatribe rather than reasoned logic.
Custardguts, Apr 23 2013

       Well, I'm happy to keep several people in poverty if I can offset it.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 23 2013

       //So the less money you are handling, the less oil that gets burned,//   

       Is the inverse true? If I go and burn more oil will I get more money?
AusCan531, Apr 23 2013

       Yes, higher consumption is reasonably linear with higher CO2 output, but not completely. If you spent all your money going around installing double glazing replacement windows in older homes, your net carbon would fall negative pretty rapidly, no matter how much money you put into it.   

       Obviously that's an extreme example, but someone who buys a Ford Expedition is rather definitely producing more carbon than someone who spends 2-3 times as much on a Tesla Roadster. Especially if the latter lives in the Pacific Northwest or other places where the majority of electric production is non-fossil fuel.
MechE, Apr 23 2013

       //If I go and burn more oil will I get more money?// Well, generally speaking, in a roundabout way, yes. All other things being equal, if you burn more oil you have to get the oil. To get the oil you have to pay for it. To pay for it you have to have extra money. To obtain the extra money you have to get it. QED.
pocmloc, Apr 24 2013

       //So everything else in nature has a carbon footprint of zero ? Makes trees planted to offset CO2 emissions seem a bit silly. For nature it probably is the ratio of animals / plants at any given time.//   

       It's only an approximation. If something acts to remove carbon from the ecosystem then it'll have a negative carbon footprint.
The fuzziness in this is down to what you consider accessible to the ecosystem. It's a bit like the natural<->man-made distinction. The assumption is that humans are distinct from everything else. The definition may be useful, but the assumption is wrong.

       //Which leads me to think that before fossil fuels were created there must have been quite a lot of CO2.//   

       Yes, absolutely. Various other things have changed as well, though.   

       //And surely worldwide there's an awful lot of CO2 trapped in plant matter in layers of soil. Some of it is dug up again and burned as peat but not all of it.//   

       Yes again. And theres a way of treating the soil with charcoal (see - "terra preta") which some consider carbon negative - and it only fixes the carbon for thousands of years. I guess that's still longer than trees - but then there may be other benefits to growing trees.
Loris, Apr 24 2013

       //Makes trees planted to offset CO2 emissions seem a bit silly// Indeed, many things make that seem a bit silly. In fact I would go so far as to say it is a bit silly.
pocmloc, Apr 24 2013

       //Well, I'm happy to keep several people in poverty if I can offset// - just out of interest, where exactly do you keep them?
hippo, Apr 24 2013

       I just assumed he was referring to the household staff, except the butler who I'm given to understand does quite well.
MechE, Apr 24 2013

       I agree with [pocmloc].   

       I also think the concepts of 'carbon neutral' and 'carbon offsets' are examples off wooly thinking. Trees grow; fuel gets used. These are unrelated things and don't 'offset' each other. Similarly, a business manager who claimed to offset the cost to the business of extravagant lunches against particular incomes or savings would not get my vote. Regardless of those savings or incomes, the business still bears the full cost of the lunch. Regardless of tree plantings, the atmosphere still bears the full cost of the carbon dioxide emitted by a flight, in the sense that planting the trees and not taking the flight would cause less emissions.   

       If the goal were to achieve a balance (not too little, not too much carbon dioxide) then the above argument would not hold. But if the goal of a business is to maximise profits, and if the goal is to minimise carbon dioxide emissions (and other stuffings up of the planet), then the positives and negatives must be accounted for properly, and not subjected to such book-fiddling.
spidermother, Apr 24 2013

       //I also think the concepts of 'carbon neutral' and 'carbon offsets' are examples off wooly thinking.//   

       While I agree that the idea of offsetting carbon released into the ecosystem with trees is dubious, I think carbon neutral is a reasonable term. While currently we don't properly sequester a large amount of carbon, it's theoretically possible. And if you can grow or create stuff which you then use - without involving fossil carbon release - then it's reasonable to call it carbon neutral.
CO2 pollution isn't the be-all and end-all, the terms may be widely abused, but that doesn't mean the theory behind them is invalid.

       To be clear, though, I think the political systems set up with carbon trading were a bad mistake; worse than useless. I'm not disagreeing about the need for proper accounting.
Loris, Apr 25 2013

       Per the linked paper, the energy payback time on replacement windows is under five years. Given that the typical nominal lifespan is twenty years, and the practical lifespan is probably longer than that (in residential construction), I stand by my statement.
MechE, Apr 25 2013

       //the energy payback time on replacement windows is under five years. Given that the typical nominal lifespan is twenty years, and the practical lifespan is probably longer than that (in residential construction), I stand by my statement.//   

       <boring aside>
As part of my department's game of musical offices, we recently had to move around a couple of times. The room is so cold in winter that electric heaters are often used to give additional heating. As the offices were being redecorated anyway, I suggested that secondary double-glazing be installed in the wall-to-wall window. This couldn't be contemplated because it wasn't considered cost-effective. On inquiring into how this could be, I was told that the required pay-back rate was three years.
The depressing thing is how the university likes to boast about how 'green' it is, when it can't even be bothered with these easy, obvious and straightforward wins.
Loris, Apr 25 2013

       And you're right that early adopters of solar are probably not carbon neutral or negative with the energy cost of the panel.   

       However, those drove the market, and panels produced in the last decade definitely have an EROEI greater than 1 for any reasonable installation.
MechE, Apr 25 2013

       Unfortunately, you're right that people don't make logical environmental decisions even when they otherwise could.   

       One thing about carbon trading schemes you have to realize is that they were/are really intended as an interim step. The primary purpose is to give industries that have low hanging fruit an additional incentive to complete those projects. Once those projects are in place, it gets more expensive to find ways to offset, but at the same time the total number of credits is reduced. This results in them being worth more (to those industries that have a harder time reducing, or those who have significant infrastructure investment that hasn't worn out yet), which will pay for more expensive projects to reduce emissions where that can be done.   

       So the intent is not just a static cap, but a way to direct resources to those projects that do reduce emissions.   

       The concept of planting forests to offset carbon emissions is relatively stupid, but the concept of helping someone to install an anaerobic digester that turns cow manure into energy (replacing fossil carbon with environmental) and fertilizer, and reduces methane in the atmosphere, is a net gain.
MechE, Apr 25 2013

       //I have been told ... that a dog has the same carbon footprint as a Range Rover.//   

       What sort of dog? There's quite a difference in scale between breeds.   

       Mastiff - typical weight : 80kg
Chihuahua - typical weight : 2kg
Loris, Apr 25 2013

       //What sort of dog?// The example cited was a retriever.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 25 2013

There are several sorts of retrievers, most are typically 30kg (including golden and labrador retrievers).

       The typical weight of most cats seems to be 4 kg; I suppose that they're equivalent per kilo or somewhere near, so chances are they've got a lower carbon footprint... perhaps a moped.
Loris, Apr 25 2013

       Except that cats are obligate carnivores, and dogs aren't. I believe most dog food contains more non- animal sourced fillers, which would lower their carbon footprint.
MechE, Apr 25 2013

       Although I appreciate the idea of comparing human vs animal carbon footprints, I believe it is more helpful to compare various human footprints.   

       I have lowered my carbon footprint to subsistence levels. My highest electrical use for the last 12 months was 18.5 kWh per day and my lowest was 5.0 kWh per day, for an 1,800 sq ft home in a cold climate. That equates to an average of 11.52 kWh per day, annually.   

       My total traveling expense has been <USD$13 for 2,564 miles. I would be more interested in how my carbon numbers stack up against other humans, rather than animals.   

       But [+] for any idea that helps people become more aware of their carbon impact.
Klaatu, Apr 25 2013

       Rather than all this carbon off-setting malarkey couldn't we all reduce our carbon footprint by the simple expedient of only breathing out half as often as we breath in?
DrBob, Apr 25 2013

       //My total traveling expense has been <USD$13 for 2,564 miles.// Goodness! Where do you find chauffeurs for that money?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 25 2013

       If we start talking about the carbon footprint of a snake, it's just going to be like something off Blue Jam. I'm not even going to mention millipedes.
not_morrison_rm, Apr 26 2013


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