So let’s kill all the dogs!

December 4, 2009 | 00:00

So let’s kill all the dogs!

According to New Zealand researchers, Robert and Brenda Vale, a 4.6 litre Toyota Land Cruiser has less than half the eco-footprint of a medium sized dog. The maths is fairly simple. The dog eats its way through around 164 kg of meat and 95 kg of cereals a year, which equates to 0.84 hectares of productive land. The Land Cruiser, by contrast, needs 55.1 gigajoules to build and run it, which equates to around 0.41 hectares of productive land. Cats meanwhile require around 0.15 hectares, which is apparently slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf.

Chris Cragg is a freelance journalist who has written about energy matters for the past 25 years for numerous magazines and newsletters. He edited the Financial Times Energy Economist for 14 years and spent four years working for BP.
This is splendid news before the Copenhagen Conference. Clearly the problem of climate change is simpler than we thought. All we need to do is kill all the dogs and cats. Come to think of it, why not extend this to other animals as well? Presumably the eco-footprint of the Siberian Tiger is rather more than a medium size tank and a pride of lions must equate to the average military jet.

Meanwhile, Lord Stern, who wrote a study of the economics of climate change for the British Government, has announced that since farm ruminant animals are thought to be responsible for a quarter of man-made methane emissions we had better all become vegetarian. This will presumably go down very well in Texas, whose inhabitants will need no encouragement at all to shift entirely to a diet of muesli!

We know this because the Pew Research Centres says that only 57% of Americans now believe that climate change is actually happening. This would be acceptable perhaps, if it wasn’t for the fact that the figure was 77% in 2007. As an issue climate change is going backwards in the USA. This is not perhaps good news for President Obama’s 900-page climate change bill currently crawling through the Senate.

In another part of the debate, the influential Oxford energy economist Dieter Helm wants to shift the economic model of climate change towards consumption rather than production. On this new model, the EU, the USA and Japan should be seen as responsible for China and India’s levels of emissions since the vast bulk of those emissions result from the exports, which the developed west consumes.

The logic of this is impeccable. Helm calculates that Britain’s impressive 15% decline in emissions – the result of shutting down the coal industry – is counteracted by a 19% increase in emissions from our import of carbon intensive goods.

However the problem with this is that it adds yet more hideous complexity to the whole climate change debate. If, for example, Britain is responsible for the emissions created in China and India by importing their goods then surely the rest of the world is responsible for much of the carbon produced in Britain in the 19th century? It was, after all, the then “Workshop of the World”. A shift towards a consumption model of emissions would produce a truly enormous amount of finger pointing at Copenhagen.

Equally, it has to be admitted that if they did not export then neither China nor India would be developing at all. Not all of the benefits of this process are simply being exported, leaving the Chinese and Indians penniless. How do you calculate these benefits? Meat consumption, for example, is growing rapidly in both countries.

Weaving these strands together is not cheerful news for Copenhagen. Obama is on an uphill run. If he fails to get his bill, any US attempt to change the Kyoto rules will create huge anger. Listening to some of the current discussions suggests that to truly save the planet all we really have to do is transform ourselves into dog-eating, non-exporting communities. Like North Korea perhaps? Or Mao’s China during “the great leap forward”?

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