Saturday, 20 July 2013

Sustainable Living. HAH!

Cambridge family purchases chickens hoping to teach their children about responsibility and sustainable living. Their chickens, McFly and Sheldon, are just as much a part of the family as any dog or cat.


1) Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
2) (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.

Yet another family romanticizing the value of raising chickens in their residential backyard. Hoping to pass on environmental values they want to teach their children about sustainable living. But I don't think they understand what sustainable living is. It sure as hell has nothing to do with raising chickens and treating them as pets.

People that think raising their own chickens is environmentally sustainable have not done the math. Chickens need food. That food has to come from somewhere, anywhere from 1/8 to 1/20 of a pound of feed per chicken per day. And there just is not enough room in an urban backyard for a family to grow that food themselves. Being limited to a summer growing season to feed chickens year-round is also a bit of a constraint. So the chicken feed has to be purchased. Now which is the least environmentally efficient? A) a farmer ordering feed to be shipped in bulk or B) a suburban family picking up a 10 lb/4.5 kg bag of feed every few weeks in their family sedan or minivan?

I hope you picked B). If not, here's why you should have. Bulk shipments are done by delivery truck. The more of the carrying capacity by weight of that delivery vehicle used for shipment lowers the amount of fuel used per kg (or lb) of item shipped. Or more simply, when a vehicle burns fuel, that fuel is used to propel the weight of the vehicle and everything inside of it. Instead of litres/one hundred kilometers, think liters/kilogram. You might be thinking a big heavy truck laden with feed consumes a lot of fuel. And you would be correct. But one truck carrying 100 kgs of chicken feed consumes less fuel than 100 trucks carrying one kg of chicken feed each. Because the fuel consumed has to propel the truck, the driver (the fuel) and the feed. By distributing across one hundred trucks, you are adding the weight of those 100 trucks to the energy required to ship the chicken feed.

This math becomes very apparent when you consider the family minivan picking up one 4.5 kg bad of chicken feed. Excluding the weight of the minivan, the driver of the vehicle outweighs the product he is picking up by an average factor of 19. Make picking up the chicken feed a family event and now you have to factor in the weight of the entire family, the dog and anything else piled into the vehicle. In fact the family is consuming the greater proportion of the fuel transporting themselves.

But isn't the family minivan a more fuel efficient vehicle than a delivery truck?

Yes it is, but 100 family minivans driving one kilometer each will burn more fuel than one delivery truck driving one kilometer. It's the whole reason environmentalists advocate mass transit over personal automobile use. If picking up your own chicken feed is more environmentally sustainable then bulk shipping feed to a farm, we should then therefore get rid of buses and advocate personal vehicle use.

But what if we take the bus? Or use an electric car?

You just don't give up do you? Ok fine. Consider this. That feed was shipped to the store in bulk. In a delivery truck. And now you have to add the personal energy used by the bus or your electric car or your minivan to pickup that 4.5 kg bag of chicken feed to the fuel used by the delivery truck going to the store. You haven't subtracted the energy cost of the delivery truck from your equation at all.

Check and Mate.

But surely being able to walk into the backyard and gather your own eggs instead of driving to the store is more environmentally conscious!?! Well yes, if you only go to the grocery store to buy a dozen eggs. If you go to the grocery store to buy all your other groceries except eggs, well then that would be a big fat no. Because you're still going to the damned grocery store every week.

And then there's that other problem that chickens only lay eggs for one to two years and could live for another eight years after that. The logical choice would be to then eat the chicken once it no longer lays eggs. But if you consider it "just as much a part of the family as any dog or cat" you're a little less likely to want to have it for dinner. Which means, if you keep it as a pet for the rest of it's natural life span, you are now feeding a none-productive animal. And consuming all the energy that requires.

Sustainable? Bullshit. These parents are not teaching sustainable living. They are teaching rose-tinted, pie-in-the-sky, romanticized urban-hipster living.

PS Totally everything that Andrew Potter says here.


Ken Breadner said...

Hear, hear. We're most of us guilty of embracing this illusion, though rarely to this degree. It's so easy to be greenwashed...

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favourite peeves. People who think they can keep just about any farm animal in a small back yard. One of my friends once brought home a goat and decided it could live perfectly well all by itself tethered to the clothesline. To which I unwisely reacted by saying something like "Are you completely nuts!" Goats are herd animals that absolutely need room and freedom to roam. They don't do well on their own. Of course her poor goat kept getting tangled up in its tether and hung itself within two weeks (no, you can't leave a farm animal in a backyard without supervision) and I've lost a friend.
And then there's all those people who think farm animals can fend for themselves so it doesn't matter if you're a bit late feeding it or giving it water.