Is Walking Bad for the Environment?

Here’s the case.

Derek Dunn-Rankin, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Irvine and an avid environmentalist, computes that a 180-pound person walking one mile to and from work at a pace of two miles per hour will burn 200 calories above the 2,000 calories burned each day to maintain the body’s basic metabolism. However, the production of those 200 calories in food takes fifteen to twenty times as much energy in the form of fossil fuels. This means that driving a high fuel economy car (40 miles per gallon) will use, in fossil fuel energy, only about two-thirds to one half the energy that the person uses in replacing the calories expended on walks. (Heavier walkers use even more energy when they walk and when they replace the greater calories they expend in moving their weight.) Energy use and pollution do not have a one-to-one correspondence, which causes Dunn-Rankin to conclude, “My bottom line would be that walking can be 1.5 to 2 times more polluting than driving (if you use a high mileage car). If you use a monster car, you are better off walking always.”16

The full post, by Richard McKenzie, is here.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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7 Responses to Is Walking Bad for the Environment?

  1. Clearly, the problem is not with walking itself but with food production.

  2. Matty says:

    It’s an intriguing argument but does assume we match calories consumed to calories expended rather closely. Does anyone say to themselves “I’ll take the car today so I can skip lunch”? To be fair the assumption is explicit in the article but I think this is a case where individual variation reduces the utility of a generalised model.

  3. But I like walking, & it is good for me! Now you are telling me it’s bad for the environment?

    Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

  4. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Damn you, Mad Rocket Scientist, damn you all to hell!

  5. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Actually, I think the point is not so much to say we should drive, but to point out that “common sense” beliefs aren’t really so obviously correct as we often assume. It’s a sort of freakonomics argument, I’d say.

  6. Damn me to… oh, just Hell.

    Phew! I thought you were going to damn me to someplace bad, like Massachusetts.

  7. lancifer666 says:

    Of course this article just assumes that CO2 is “pollution”. Modern engines emit miniscule amounts of compounds that actually “foul” the air. Computerized engine management systems and catalytic converters have reduced hydrocarbon and CO (carbon monoxide a compound that IS actually toxic) levels to nearly zero.

    What comes out of the tail pipe is almost entirely CO2 and water vapor. These are the two compounds that plants require (in addition to sunlight) to generate the food and oxygen for all of the aerobic organisms on earth.

    Calling it “pollution” is simply absurd.

    James, I realize that it was the counter-intuitive message that walking is “worse” for the environment than driving that caught your interest, but there will come a time in the not too distant future when all of this carbonphobia will be seen as ludicrous as people that horded food in anticipation of the end of the Mayan calender.

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