Please do your calculations in the margins

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.

That is from Arnold Kling.  And if you believe in a zero or very low discount rate, don’t forget to count all those puppies too.


1) Spencer's comment at Kling's blog is a good start. SUVs cost more to buy and maintain, hence they use more resources. This assumes the price reflects the underlying costs, as it should in a perfect market.
2) More to the point, if all prices reflected true costs (including externalities), then there would be no need for environmentalists to shame SUV owners or other polluters. The extra resource cost of an SUV would, on the margin, equal the extra benefit an SUV creates for the buyer. However, if there are significant externalities (as there likely are for gas), then the "shame" system and/or the "regulation" system need to kick in to supplement the imperfect market.

The key question is whether, on the margin, there are external costs BEYOND those taken into account by the buyer, for SUVs vs. dogs.

without any numbers to back up his assertion, it appears that king is either trolling or making some stupid satire.

A substitute for an SUV is a fuel-efficient, smaller car
A substitute for a not-publicly-littering pet dog is a cat (?), a tank of goldfish(?), a child(?), or a loyal human companion (?)

The true cost on the margin should be calculated based on the cost of substitution.

Is this a marginal or absolute comparison? Is this owning an SUV vs. owning a Prius (and hence owning a dog versus owning a cat) or vs. not having one at all? Since the car is an SUV do we have to assume the dog is a German Shepherd, rather than Sheltie?

As implied by Spencer's comment, Kling's claim seems unlikely based purely on cost. Is Kling considering the impacts of "producing" either a dog or SUV, or the toll from disposal?

Count me skeptical.

What if the dog is a small dog; 5 pounds small. Like a Yorkie?

I don't like dogs and I'm highly skeptical of environmentalism, and still I find this claim ridiculous.

As economics student points out, to compare the internalized costs one need only compare the market prices. Certainly dogs have externalities, but (even if SUVs had no externalities) it's hard to imagine how the dog's externalities could possibly be large enough to make up for difference in price. If every dog imposed $40K of costs on the neighborhood, I'm fairly sure that teams of neighborhood vigilantees would be regularly taking out dogs.

Most Americans who aquire a dog as a pet have it spayed or neutered, which makes the puppies line of argument hard to maintain.

quick googling results ==

in 2004 the dog food industry output was $34.4 billion according to the national association of dog food manufacturers.

each year Americans consume about 120 billion gallons of gasoline.
If that is at $3.00 a gallon it gives a cost of $360 billion or over ten times the size of the dog food market.

Anyone want to look up the number of auto mechanics compared to the number of vets, etc.?

I have three dogs and I find this claim difficult to believe, but there are certainly things you can do to lessen your dogs environmental impact. Are they spayed or neutered? What type of food do you feed them? Is it organic? Is it vegetarian? Where is it manufactured? Where do you buy it? What do you do with their waste? Leave it, trash it, compost it, pay someone to pick it up? Plastic bags or biodegradable bags? Do you keep your home heated to keep them warm when you're gone? Do you take extra car trips to run them to doggie daycare? Do dress them in outfits? It's not really as cut and dry as it is with an SUV.

Cats are mentioned as being better on the environment on Kling's posting, but cats also have a whole host of environmental considerations around them. Many cat litters require strip mining. There are issues around toxoplasmosis getting in the water stream and harming wild animals. And the effect that outdoor cats have on birds is a huge source of contention.

How can you take seriously someone who thinks that if you're "for" clean air, soil, water, and food, you're anti-industry?

The externality of neighbors letting their dogs do there business on my lawn is certainly greater that $360 Billion a year.

I view the thought experiment as either "ban SUVs" or "ban dogs as pets," with both laws being adequately enforced. *Some* pet dogs are the ones having puppies. At a Stern-like discount rate I think Kling is right. There's lot of invective against him, and a variety of asymmetric assumptions ("spay your dog!" but not "don't drive your SUV!"), but no real answer to his challenge.

"Huh? What challenge?"

Seconded. All there was a blind assertion, with no evidence provided whatsoever.

"spay your dog!" but not "don't drive your SUV!"

How are these at all functionally equivalent? Are you suggesting that a spayed dog loses all of its usefulness to the family? If so, Bob Barker would like to have a word with you.

Using my made-up law that for commodities (SUVs, gasoline, dogs, and dog-food,) cost is approximately equal to total direct and indirect energy inputs, and energy input is pretty well correlated with environmental impact, the per annum environmental toll is about 10x for an SUV compared to a dog.

"no real answer to his challenge."
With all due respect, there appears to be far more careful analysis in the blog comments than in Kling's unsupported assertion, although admittedly that's a very low bar. Do you have some secret evidence you are relying on for your claim?

e.g. "There's lot of invective against him"
In contrast, Kling does his best to engender thoughtful, respectful discussion with comments like these:)
"it does seem to me that environmentalism inevitably points toward a policy of extermination of pet dogs. Unless environmentalism is simply hatred of industry."

> In contrast, the best science apparently concludes that future climate is a function of today's CO2 emissions.

My dad's dog, may he rest in peace, emitted some kind of gas, although I do not know the true chemical composition (there certainly was an external cost imposed on those near him) and do not know its impact on the environment.

Owning an SUV is often decried as a waste of resources. A 3cylander hatchback is sufficient for most transportation needs so anything more is waste. Anyone who buys an SUV is merely gratifying their own selfish desires.

Owning a pet is, by the same logic, a waste of resources. Ownership of a dog or cat provides gratification to its owner but no little additional utility to society. At the same time pets consume billions of dollars of resourses which could be better used. For example, if Americans spend $34 Billion/year on pets, that money could fund 6 doctor visits per year per person for every uninsured individual in the United States.

Kling's challenge is: if SUV's are an unconscionable waste of resources, then why aren't pets?

Kling's example mentions dog poo, which environmentalists could argue acts as a fertilizer. But maybe that's because I think environmentalists are just a bunch of hippies. And as for dog food, isn't that largely made from scraps and animal byproducts, and thus a more efficient use of resources?

Now, if you think of it in terms of its impact on humans - like diseases, ruining of shoes, noise, attacks, etc, then that makes the dog more costly. But I doubt environmentalists consider the harm there to be done to the "environment."

Hehe...sorry but i can not agree with you...

Anyone considered the idea that dogs and SUVs (or similar large vehicles) are probably complementary goods? If I have a large dog, or multiple dogs, I'm more likely to want a large vehicle to drive it around to places to run around.

Clearly there is a solution to both issues here. Concerned about companionship, transport and the environment? Get a horse.

Everyone here has proved (what I believe is)his point that people don't delve in deep enough to consider all the facets of an argument.

I don't think that was his point, but if it was my response is, "Physician, heal thyself."

Kling and Cowen have chosen an absurd example in order to accuse environmentalists of double standards. That accusation is simply not justified. I don't know any environmentalists who approve of dog owners who fail to collect the poop. And the noise made by barking dogs especially at night is a kind of pollution, just as industrial noise is pollution. Animal lovers tend to look very disapprovingly on pet owners who fail to have their pets spayed/neutered. The impact of feral pets on wild life is a problem that conservationists are well aware of. Environentalists also take animals as sources of GHG emissions very serious (this is not a big concern with dogs but it is with cattle).

Kling and Tyler obviously think they can ridicule environmentalists by painting them as naive tree-huggers who love animals and hate SUVs. What a bullshit. Every thoughtful environmentalist is certainly aware that pet ownership incurs social and environmental costs, that pet owners have a responsibility to minimize these costs (e.g. by using biodegradable litter for cats), and that individuals should seriously consider the pros and cons before aquiring a pet (the pet's welfare as well as that of the owners being an important consideration). We don't need clueless economists to tell us these things.

However, the comparison of a dog with an SUV is just outlandish and doesn't even merit a serious discussion (and you should be grateful for the many thoughtful responses you got undeservedly). What is wrong btw is not the SUV per se. What is wrong is SUV owners (most of whom could as well use a more efficient vehicle) wasting resources and burdening society with the external cost of their behavior. If SUV owners were charged the true environmental cost, SUVs would be rare. Kling and Cohen are making a clownesque effort to distract attention from this fact.

This discussion is certain the raise the credibility of economists among the general population.

If fuel taxes don't capture the full pollution cost of a gallon used by an SUV driver, they don't capture the full pollution cost of a gallon used by a Prius driver, either. Fix the costs for everyone, without demonizing someone with different preferences. That's the civil and effective approach.

Of course it would be better, and more civil, and whatever. It is also not happening, hence the demonizing of SUVs as a weak substitute for really effective measures. Do you think Prius-driving-SUV-bashing people are the main opposition to raising the cost of gas? Or SUV-driving-Prius-bashing people?

As a last thought, and as a reminder from the Common Sense department, let me point out that domesticated dogs have been around for 10'000 years and there is no evidence that they ever caused significant environmental problems (tell me if you know otherwise), whereas the evidence that gas-burning SUVs are contributing to pollution and climate change is rock solid.

No, piglet, the question I'm interested in -- and I'm not commenting on Kling's blog, I'm commenting on this entire thread -- is whether there is anything reasonable or productive about the demonization of SUV ownership.

There isn't. The same puritanical sanctimony could be whipped up against any optional resource-consuming luxury, like PET ownership. The effective response to all such activity is simply to ensure that it pays its real costs.

For another example, the Prius owner who commutes 25 miles daily pollutes a lot more than my SUV. The judgmental attitude you advocate does nothing about that -- in fact it can encourage that behavior, because it sets the wrong standard ("what do you drive?"), and emphasizes emotional and symbolic actions over tangible results. A working price mechanism exactly and proportionately addresses the real harms.

And maybe that PET owner or that Prius-long-commuter or that SUV owner gets enough pleasure and value out of their marginally higher resource consumption that it's worth it for them to pay the fair full costs. If so, such payment is all that a civil and respectful person should demand, because we all have different preferences.

Finally, name-calling and insults do not make your argument stronger.

Re: "for no good reason"

It's fair to concern yourself with my externalities. But my utility curves are none of your damn business.

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