Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carbon Hoofprint

British Columbians voted (or at least they should have!) in a provincial election today. Our riding is deeply conservative and my left-leaning voice holds no sway, but I threw my vote at the environmental party in hopes of helping them to secure more funding in future. I did the same in our last federal election. Maybe one day the province and the country will adopt electoral reforms that allow my vote to count. The referendum on switching BC from its antiquated first-past-the-post system to a single-transferable-vote system is not going to pass, so I'm not holding my breath.

Earlier today I met Dan at Farmer Dave's to load our second batch of hay. We talked about the election as we worked, focusing on its environmental repercussions. Then we started talking about the environmental impact of owning recreational horses, which is a concern that I have never been able to reconcile. Over the course of one year my two giant pets eat about 8 metric tons of local hay, another ton of alfalfa cubes, 260 kg of oats, 260 kg of beet pulp, 100 kg flax meal, 80 kg of sunflower seeds, and some other incidentals. I would love to know how much fossil fuel goes into growing, harvesting, preparing and transporting all that feed for them. When you multiply that mystery number against all the people with a couple of backyard horses the carbon hoofprint must be huge.

At work I am an avid environmentalist and I have committed my career to working on environmental problems, but the dichotomy between my professional beliefs and my personal lifestyle is uncomfortable. We have made a lot of environmentally conscious decisions at Farcical Farm (recognizing that we have a much larger carbon footprint as rural dwellers than we had as urban dwellers) , but horse ownership was not amongst them. Regardless of how carefully we run the operation, my own carbon footprint is MUCH bigger with Tonka and Raven in tow than it would be without them. It's a hard pill to swallow, so it is still lodged in my throat.


allhorsestuff said...

We do what we can and you do more for the environment than many I am in contact with... thanks for your upkeep on our Big Earth home DP!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think the more people get into the game the better we will be. I'm with you on the environment and keep hoping things will turn around sooner than later.

EvenSong said...

I know from driving tractor/baler during haying season how much diesel goes into each bale of hay (well, not really, but I know it's a lot). Also to be considered is the petroleum based fertilizers most often used.

You combat that to a certain extent by producing earth-friendly by-products (your compost) which are healthy for your little FF corner of the world. I don't know how hard it would be to buy your hay from an organic producer, given the specific nature of the hay you need for Tonka, but that would be another step in the right direction. The extreme version would be to find a farmer that uses horses to hay, but those fellows are RARE, so we do the best we can (and that make a difference for your two back-yard horses, but few others).

Although I don't really buy the "I can fly cross country on this big jet-fuel-eating plane, because I bought trees to be plannted in the rain forest" argument, I think that your kind treatment of the environment in the vast majority of your lifestyle does, in fact, balance out quite a bit in the end.

deseal = you got deseal of approval

AareneX said...

I share your concerns and your feelings of guilt. Our eventual plan is to put solar panels on the roof of the barn (and elsewhere) to "spin back the dial" on the power meters. It's not enough...but better than nothing. With luck, Prez Obama's incentives will make our enhancements fiancially possible.

Even if they never pay for themselves, I want to add solar if I can because it's the responsible thing to do. I just wish I could manage to be more responsible than I am!

Perhaps, since we're heading the same direction, we'll give each other good ideas? I hope it will happen!

Sarah Henderson, BCCDC said...

Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.

We do buy local grass hay, so I guess that is more earth-friendly than the timothy/alfalfa that gets hauled to the coast from the interior. And I try hard to minimize other types of feed for the horses...better for the environment and the wallet.

When we remodeled the house we put in a heat pump with furnace backup, so most of our heating/cooling is quite efficient, and we bought good windows to help conserve the heat we generate. We use CFCs and recycle and compost and all that good environmental stuff, but I feel like we should be paying some environmental tax on the hungry beasts. BC does have a carbon tax on all fossil fuels, so I guess that's something.

Anyhow, I will let you know if I come up with any good ideas. Obviously letting the horses eat the pasture in summer would be better for the environment, but not so good for Tonka.

AareneX: I'm not sure quite where you are geographically, but somewhere in the PNW I believe? Will solar be a worthwhile venture in your area? We have considered it here, but I think we would try wind first as it does whip up and down the valley.

Funder said...

Been thinking about this whole concept for a couple of days, and this is the best I've got.

Environmental concerns are a classic tragedy of the commons. If you went right out and shot and composted your horses, you would delay whatever environmental disaster is coming by seconds. If you started ordering alfalfa from SK and low-carb feed from Quebec and opening the windows with the air conditioner on, you'd make the environmental disaster come seconds faster. Your actions, and my actions, are such a tiny drop in the bucket.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. That's like saying atheists are all amoral because they have no eternal reward awaiting them. There's a myriad of reasons to try to make our lives and hobbies more environmentally sustainable.

You shouldn't feel guilty about the environmental costs of things you truly love. You're taking reasonable steps to mitigate the costs, and you're conscious of the costs, and that's good enough. Life is short. Hug your horses and smile.

Jean said...

The little changes we each make help to make a big differences, and obviously you have made many of those little changes.

I hope you don't mind my raising a controversial question here, dp. I have never had a horse, though I am an animal lover. I am constantly baffled by the way in which some (SOME) horse people buy and trade and dispose of horses the way others do the financial type of stock.

At risk of raising the ire of your many horsey readers, collectively could horse people not make a big difference if they stayed committed to the horses they bred (or bought as a foal)instead of constantly exchanging them for something "bigger and better?" That would reduce the number of horses being bred, reducing the carbon hoofprint as well as reducing the number of unwanted animals sent to slaughter.

Perhaps thinking of horses as "companion animals" to whom one gives lifelong commitment, rather than "recreational animals" that may one day be outgrown or no longer needed, would help resolve your dilemma. I think, from reading of your horses, that they are your companion animals, just as the dogs are mine. And therefore although they leave a carbon footprint, you are responsibly keeping it as small as you can at the same time that you are stewards for other lives.

Black Jack's Carol said...

I found this post, and the comments, very interesting! The very fact that you are so concerned about your carbon footprint speaks volumes, dp. I know you will continue to minimize that print in every possible way, and that is all anyone can do. Raven and Tonka have what has to be just about a picture perfect life, and that must go a long way to assuaging the guilt, don't you think? Jean's comment inspired thoughts that have brewed for a long time. I will never forget a girl at the stable where I worked years ago, crying when her horse became lame. I hugged her and tried to comfort her, thinking it was the horse she was concerned about. It turned out that she was crying because her father wouldn't trade in the horse for a "better" one. I found that shocking, and still have to remind myself that horses are not considered "for life" in the way that pets are for responsible people. I guess the classification "pet" is an important distinction. Anyhow, great post! Thanks

AareneX said...

Here's another thing horse people can do: keep an *appropriate* population of horses. By not over-grazing our land, we are better stewards (as well as better horse-keepers). Sometimes that can mean making a hard decision, as when a beloved horse is lame-beyond-repair.

The easy choice is to warehouse the lame horse and buy a new/better model. The adult choice is to give your faithful friend a good life as much as possible, and refrain from buying another if your land can't support the extra mouth and feet.

Sometimes it sucks to be responsible. It's important, though. Thanks for raising the issue(s), dp!