Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Environmentalists and Their Dogs

A couple weeks ago I noted a story about the environmental impact of dogs and wondered how people who claim to be deeply concerned with the environment would react when challenged about part of their lives that they deemed important: Namely their pets. Now we have our answer.

Someone over at TNR has posted a brilliant econometric analysis: Dog walking promotes vibrant communities, and hence

And if the parks and streets are safer, wouldn't that convince more people to live in those urban neighborhoods (say, instead of the suburbs)? Doesn't that ultimately have a green effect? I don't know how it all tallies up, but surely there are a few marks on the positive side of the dog externality ledger.

Who can say how it all tallies up! But dogs are awesome, so they must be a net green. Ditto for other things noble-hearted liberals like, such as vacations to France.

PS: Elsewhere TNR has a long take-down of Malcolm Gladwell that's worth reading. Sample hotness:

Gladwell's overarching thesis in Outliers is so obviously correct that it hardly merits discussion. "The people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are." Also, tomorrow is the beginning of the rest of your life. Gladwell writes as if he is the only person in the world in possession of this platitudinous wisdom. The central irony of Outliers is that, Gladwell's discomfort with the self-help genre notwithstanding, he has written a book that conforms to it perfectly. This is a motivational manual. It is larded with inspirational stories, and with interactive games to capture the reader's attention--with handy charts and portentous graphs. Its language puts one in mind of, say, Tony Robbins. (On his blog Gladwell recently referred to two speaking engagements on his book tour as "shows.") We are in guru-land here. "We're going to conduct a crash investigation," Gladwell exhorts--a little tastelessly--near the start of a chapter on plane wrecks. Occasionally he tells the reader to write things down. Sometimes he preaches hope: "The world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for." Si, se puede. His stories display the mild melodrama of all inspirational books: they are either uplifting or tragic (and therefore also uplifting). One subject's tale is called "heartbreaking" three times in less than six pages.


Unfortunately it is buried beneath more claims about society. "We think that, say, Nobel Prize winners in science must have the highest IQ scores imaginable, " Gladwell flatly states, before going on to patiently explain that many Nobel Prize winners do not go to Harvard. In a footnote, he admits that in fact Harvard "produces more Nobel Prize winners than any other school." Finally, he adds: "But wouldn't you expect schools like Harvard to win more Nobels than they do?" Here is the Gladwell method nicely on display: a questionable assumption, a partial walk-back of an earlier claim, and finally another questionable assumption synthesizing the half-reversal. The upshot is the mundane observation that Harvard produces more Nobel winners than anyone else, but not too many more. Gladwell wants to be provocative and inoffensive. It is, in fact, his special gift.


It's funny how the things deemed really harmful to the planet--SUVs, plasma TVs, children--are things liberal environmentalists are generally happy to live without.

1 comment:

Jim said...

From the comments:

"As to the social benefits of dogs, every suburban neighborhood I've lived in could be divided into two classes of residents: Those who have no dog, and do not know their neighbors; and those who have a dog, and (because of dog-walking) do know their neighbors. When an emergency strikes -- flash floods, fires, violence -- it's been my experience that the dog-owners are the people who make effective response possible simply because they're the ones who know their neighbors and are most likely to be out of doors at any given moment."

i.e. there are 2 kinds of people: those who are Awesome, and those who are not. I am Awesome.