Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Project Nowaste - extra weight and CO2 emissions

Project NOWASTEWhen I first started posting about Project Nowaste, I said that I would give you calculations as to how much your extra weight translated into carbon costs. Now, this is rather difficult to calculate but I can give some ballpark figures to give you an idea of the damage. For clarification, I'm basing these calculations off of calorie expenditures for a sedentary person (an active person will require more calories).

In this example, I'm using a person who is 6'0" tall and 20 pounds overweight (that would be me)*. Those twenty pounds equals roughly an extra 100 calories per day to maintain that weight. That's assuming I'm just lumping around all day and not exercising, which is, in fact, what's been happening.

This equals an annual total of about 36,000 extra calories per year. Now, that's a lot of butter and candied orange peels.

Now, how does 36,000 extra calories translate into CO2 emissions**?

134.4 pounds of CO2 emitted per year if you eat the average American diet
71.68 pounds of CO2 emitted per year if you eat a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet
11.2 pounds of CO2 emitted per year if you eat a vegan diet

Since I eat mostly a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet with a little organic meat thrown in occasionally, it's probably about 90 pounds of CO2 emitted per year. Of course, if you grow your own food, this throws the numbers off (reducing them as a percentage of the total food calories you eat from your backyard). But for the sake of this calculation, let's assume I get all my calories from the store.

What does 90 pounds really compare to? Well, the average fridge emits 448 pounds of CO2 per year. So, it doesn't seem like a significant amount. Until you start adding up all the overweight people. Why is it that no one ever takes into consideration obesity or being overweight when calculating a person's carbon footprint? Because it's too hard to calculate?

In any case, it would appear that we are completely underestimating the carbon costs of, what, over 66% of the population.

If there are 230 million adults in the U.S., then there are about 152 million overweight adults. If, on average, those overweight adults consume 100 extra calories per day (although I suspect the average is higher), then that's about 13.7 billion pounds of CO2 emitted every year. Or 6.1 million tons*** (someone check my math, I'm getting punchy). And that's only if they eat like me (mostly vegetarian).

Clearly, this isn't the most scientific of studies. I'm not including the impact of overweight kids and I'm taking a lot of liberties with numbers and averages. Either way, this is definitely something that needs to be addressed.

Do these numbers surprise you?

*You can use the following for a calculation of your personal basal metabolic rate (or what you burn if you are just lolling about). To get the difference in calories you require for being overweight, calculate using your current weight and then using what you should weigh:

655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age) = ____ calories

**These calculations are based on the fact that there are:
1.382 kg of CO2 emitted per 180 calories for beef
.02 kg of CO2 emitted per 180 calories for corn syrup
.5kg of CO2 emitted per 180 calories CO2 for milk

If you ate an extra 2,000 calories a day to support your weight, this would lead to extra annual emissions of 1.2 tonnes of CO2 if you ate the average American diet, .65 tonnes on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and .1 tonnes on a vegan diet.

***There are 2,240 lb in one ton.


Phil said...

Not to mention the extra energy required to transport you in your gas-guzzler!

Chile said...

Or the extra energy it takes to pedal the extra weight uphill on a bike, which means you get hungry as a result and go eat more food.

Greenpa said...

Wow. That's a damn good first analysis. Outstanding.

Lynnet said...

All the estimates that meat-eaters cause so much more pollution/water use/etc. than vegans are based on CAFO beef, chicken, pork, etc., and count in the tremendous amounts of corn and soybeans trucked in and fed to these poor animals.

I'm sure you would find that the environmental impact of totally-pastured animals (no grains or soy) is far less than providing food for vegans, who require monocultures of grains and soybeans for their food.

Much more of the planet's surface is suitable for pasture than for intensive agriculture. Pasturing also requires almost no supplemental water, just enough for the animals' personal needs. It's a way to turn grass into human food. In the case of chickens, plants and bugs become human food. Chickens are omnivores, like humans.

People who have ethical principles for vegetarianism or veganism, that's fine. For environmental reasons, phasing out CAFO would have far more impact. It would also improve human health.

Anonymous said...

Crunchy, that's awesome. One more reason to stay fit... phew. Have you found any statistics re: the CO2 you save growing your own food? I think that would be great info to add to the pot... er, the pot of farm fresh low cal local seasonal winter squash soup...

Anonymous said...

Lynnet, just to raise a counterpoint: I'm a vegetarian for many reasons, including environmental and moral reasons. I grow 75% of what we eat on a 1,500 square foot plot.

The amount of grain that we eat is probably very similar to anyone who eats pastured animals, so that part isn't really an issue for comparison. We eat very little soy - only what we grow in our little garden.

Our protein comes from vegetables from the garden, whole grains from a local organic source, eggs from a local farmer, and milk from pastured cows. I'm planning to grow some of our own grain this year. And if we didn't rent, we'd have our own chickens and goats for eggs and milk. All on a 1/2 acre plot.

I agree that eating pastured animals is the best option if you want to eat meat, but being a vegetarian can have a much lower impact.

Anonymous said...

Crunch, I'm going for a walk.

ruchi said...

Melinda, doesn't it depend largely on where you live? I remember reading in Omnivore's Dilemma Michael Pollan saying that most of New England isn't really suited to growing vegetables so actually there it does make more sense to have pastured animals and use that as your diet? But in California, of course, our ground is great for growing vegetables!

This was fascinating, Crunchy, thanks for doing all the math!! I think the reason people don't talk about the environmental impact of obesity is because it's a very touchy issue. Even articles about the health impact of obesity cause people to lash out. I know it's a very personal issue, and to be fair I know overweight people who consume fewer calories than I do, and I'm underweight.

That's actually why I like your analysis. It doesn't *entirely* have to do with overweight or no, it has more directly to do with calorie consumption. So if you're overweight but you consume say 1500 calories a day, then it's the same if you're underweight and consuming 1500 calories a day. The only thing that counts is the calories.

Anonymous said...

For northern gardening, I would recommend finding a copy of 'Four-Season Harvest' by Eliot Coleman, who lives in Maine.

Oldnovice said...

I think you're gonna lose your audience, Crunchy. *I* talk about politics and religion (topics deemed "closest to the bones") by whichever mother told us to never talk about such things, but I've got to believe that overweight is a topic of conversation that (to the overweight) is a whole lot touchier.

I'm not sure I agree with your analysis, either, because on the one hand *I* couldn't maintain anywhere near my normal weight on a vegetarian diet unless I "filled in" with junk food and sweets (certainly not a healthy approach to eating, IMO). OTOH, I've LIVED with a woman who didn't seem to eat any more than I did (although I don't know what she ate away from home) who couldn't lose a pound to save her life. ???

I'll stick with the politics and religion discussions; fewer in the world will be offended. :-)

Crunchy Chicken said...

Oldnovice - the only thing offending my audience is probably my math skills.

And, it's certainly not all the boob pictures, of course.

Fresh and Feisty said...

I think weight issues are political and/or religious issues in a way. They all touch at our core being and if we don't question where we're coming from then they don't do us a bit of good. I appreciate this post and the others you have done. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

The thing is that in your calculations it's not the extra weight, it's the extra consumption.

My skinny friend who bike-commutes 12 miles each way and moves around by bike among a harem of (as opposed to my somewhat chunky boyfriend who bike-commutes 3 miles each way) - one is eating way more calories, and it's not the fat one.

Allie said...

This is such a great post! I added it to my morning news round up.

Heather said...

@ Melinda,


If you grow your own food more or less organically, it will absorb 0.256lbs CO2/lb harvest (that's weighing the edible bit, but considering the carbon absorbed by the whole plant).

If you then compost the inedible bits of the plant they will give off 0.365lb CO2 per lb of harvest, assuming that your compost is aerobic (which it is if it's not slimy or foul-smelling) - it's more if it's anaerobic. A worm bin counts as aerobic compost.

Hope that helps!

--Heather from New Zealand