Walking is bad for the planet


From the blog

Walking is bad for the planet

Posted 18 January 2009 18:24 by martin

If it's only greenhouse gas emissions you're worried about, then it may be better to drive than to walk.

That is the view of Chris Goodall, venture capitalist, Green party member and author of 'Ten Technologies to Save the Planet'.

His rationale caused a bit of a media stir back in August 07 (leading to this response).

This is his argument:

“Walking three miles uses about 180 calories. Replacing the energy used, assuming you don’t want to lose weight, would mean eating about 100 grammes of beef. Of course, it depends on the cut of meat, and how much fat it contains, but this figure is reasonably typical of beef in British shops. The scientists in Japan give a figure of 36 kg of emissions for a kilo of meat, so a portion of 100 grammes equates to about 3.6kg. This is the first part of the calculation – it shows that one 3 mile walk generates 3.6kg of emissions if one replaces the energy lost with beef.

What if one drove the 3 miles instead, and so didn’t need the extra food? The average UK car emits about 290 grammes (0.29kg) of CO2 for every mile travelled. A 3 mile trip therefore generates 0.87 kg of emissions. This is about a quarter of the equivalent emissions from walking. And if there are two of you, and you share the car, then walking would be eight times as bad for the climate.”

It's an interesting point of view.  But there are a lot of assumptions (such as you're not walking to lose weight, you replace your lost energy by eating beef), and he doesn't take into account the energy needed to manufacture the petrol/the car, or the energy impacts of health problems caused by inactive lifestyles.

He gets quite a lot of flak from many of those commenting (c.350) on the Times article.

His point about the energy intensity of many types of food production is sound.  But it's a shame he contrived a 'car v walking'  argument to prove his point, when encouraging people to walk more provides so many other personal and social benefits.

Let us know if you think we should change the (approximate) CO2 information we display above our route maps.

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  1. mhairi says:

    January 28th, 2009 at 4:46 pm (#)

    i've often wondered how the carbon footprint of replacing calories expended by walking or cycling, compares to that used by fossil fuel.

    i think the responses above, ie that one doesn't need to eat meat and that the sums don't take into consideration the full footprint of the car, sum it up.

    it does seem counter-intuitive that moving a 9-stone person has a bigger footprint than moving a two-tonne car plus a 9-stone person! but i understand actual research sometimes reveals counter-intuitive facts. until there is proof otherwise, i will continue to cycle and walk

  2. Ezekiel says:

    April 16th, 2009 at 12:12 pm (#)

    Well, the article also says that the cattle industry is notorious for adverse effects on the environment. I think replacing the beef with something else… something vegeterian plus maybe something brought fresh from the farm like eggs or milk.. or even chocolate would prove him wrong.
    Anyway, the idea is attrocious and perverted in the first place and should not be heeded to.
    I wonder what the linked article said about the diesel train ride for one family cauing more pollution than the average car journey for the same. I reckon it's because of the poor maintainence, perhaps.

  3. Steve Gerrish says:

    August 23rd, 2009 at 2:11 pm (#)

    Of course, we 'burn' energy when we are sitting in the car and when we are doing whatever we do with the time saved by driving rather than walking. The food to replace that needs to be taken out of the equation. This illustrates the complexity of calculating carbon footprints, and unfortunately allows vested interests to come up with carbon footprints to suit their needs (e.g. incinerator companies can make their process look good from a greenhouse gas point of view by conveniently ignoring a distant part of the lifecycle of the whole process.) The only bit of the problem that is NOT complex is the input of fossil fuel (oil, coal, gas). If we start to turn that tap off by an escalating tax directly on the producers of the raw material (crude oil production, gas production and coal extraction), the relative environmental costs of transport and food production will re-balance themselves. (I believe this is the central theme of a recent book by Oliver Tickell, which I have not read yet, or even found the title – but I heard about it by word of mouth.)

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