We wrote a while back about a claim that was circulating around the interwebs: that a German Shepherd (or other good-sized dog) has a bigger impact on the climate than an SUV. When I first heard it, I wasn’t sure what to think—it seemed implausible, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t true.
So looked into the numbers—and even though I’m certain that the New Zealand-based architects who make it are sincere and well-meaning, their claim is simply false. As I describe in mind-numbing detail, the authors underestimate the impacts of an SUV by a factor of 3, give or take; and overestimate the impact of dog food by…well, I’m not sure exactly how much, but it’s a whole heckuva lot, and probably a factor of somewhere between 6 and 30.
(The nutshell explanation: they assume that an SUV is driven less than half as much as is typical in the US; they seem to ignore the upstream impacts of gasoline extraction and refining; and they assume that the “meat” in dog food is rib-eye or hamburger, rather than spleens, bones and blood. Maybe Kiwis feed their dogs better, and drive less, than we do in North America—but in our part of the world, Rover has a smaller carbon pawprint than a Land Rover.)
And yet, despite being completely false, the “dogs are worse than SUVs” meme has legs. It made it into January’s Harper’s Index (it’ll cost you some dough to read the Jan 2010 issue). On Monday I did an interview debunking the claim on KGO Radio in San Francisco. It turned up recently in the Vancouver Sun, and then spread to internet meme factory Fark.com—with a lively discussion in the comment section. And I just found it on ABC’s website, too. I’m sure it’s all over the place, but I’m too depressed to look.
I’m not surprised to see this myth so quickly: it’s just the sort of weird thing that might be true, and it’s certainly counter-intuitive enough to be memorable. But a good story isn’t the same thing as a true story; and the reporters who are covering this claim as if it were fact ought to do a simple Google search before they publish. Otherwise, they risk spreading the myth faster than it can be debunked. And if the public debate is poisoned with bad information, some people are bound to make a choice that conflicts with their values; and a few others could turn off to the issues entirely.
So to all folks reading this, do me a favor: help me kill this thing. If you hear someone repeating this urban legend, tell them they’re wrong, and why. If you see it or hear it in the news, let me know. And feel free to link to this post, or better yet, the original.
Thanks, and Happy Holidays!
In addition to the kind memetics of “might be true” and “counter-intuitive enough to be memorable,” it alleviates the guilt of so many SUV owners. If I’m driving a Suburban and read this, I WANT to believe it because now I can feel like the impact of my auto choice is less than that of a dog. Isn’t this how so many religions keep it going, too?Your SUV isn’t so bad. You can go to heaven when you die, and remember how great Grandma was? She’s waiting for you up there! While we’re at it, global warming probably isn’t even happening. And don’t bother getting a vaccine for anything; it might make you autistic.All ridiculous, but entirely believable simply because believing them makes life easier and more guilt-free.
I really appreciated the original article – not just because I have a dog and not an SUV, but because you went to the trouble to research the facts behind the claim in mind-numbing detail, as you put it. If only more journalists and news reporters did such work! Too bad so many people are so quick to believe what they see in the “news”.
New Scientist magazine have used the meme several times.Here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427311.600-how-green-is-your-pet.htmland then quoting it more recently here:http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427311.600-how-green-is-your-pet.html