Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Moral and Carbon-Footprint Sex Conversion Ratio

In a recent post, Charles Lambert takes note of the Pope's recent equation of gay sex (and non-procreational sex in general) with the ecological disasters of deforestation. Although this seems like an improbable comparison, I think Charles is right to pay attention--after all, it's an Il Popo that blows no one good.

But Charles bemoans the fact that "What he hasn't provided us with, alas, is a conversion table. For example, just how much damage does one act of consensual anal sex do in carbon footprint terms?" I've been preoocupied for the last few days, but I'm now able to step forward and answer this pressing question--though it requires a few assumptions.

Sex of any sort uses far fewer Calories than one might expect; 200 Calories per hour per person is near the upper limit. Note that this all depends upon how vigorous the activity is. There is no evidence that anal sex on average uses more or less energy than other types (though there's some pretty lazy oral sex out there.)

A Calorie of energy burned in the human body emits about 4.8 liters of carbon dioxide. A liter of carbon dioxide at standard temperature and pressure contains about 1.8 grams. Therefore, humans generate about 0.38 grams of carbon dioxide for every Calorie burned.

This suggests that an hour of reasonably athletic sex produces about (0.38 g/Calorie x 200 Calories =) 76 grams of carbon dioxide.

Is that a lot? Well, returning to the fate of the rainforest, over its lifetime a tree sequesters about 900.000 grams of carbon dioxide. So, at about 76 grams of carbon dioxide per sexual encounter, one tree equals about 11,850 sessions of strenuous sex. (Divide by two if you want to account for both parties.)

If you had an hour of athletic, non-procreative sex every other day (or two hours of lazy sex) for 60 years, you're causing cumulative ecological damage equal to cutting down slightly less than one tree over your entire lifetime. My guess is that most people manage only 10-25% of a tree before they retire from this world.

What Il Popo really ought to be worrying about is cow burps*. On average, every cow on the planet burps out about 280 liters of methane gas per day. Pound per pound, methane causes 25 times more global warming than carbon dioxide. Of course, carbon dioxide weighs 2.75 times as much as methane, so liter-per-liter methane causes only 9.09 times as much warming as carbon dioxide. Nonetheless, that means that over the average seven-year life of a cow, the cow's burps alone are the equivalent of chopping down about three trees (or somewhere above 32,500 fucks).

When you consider the fact that much of the current deforestation in the tropics occurs to create livestock pasture, it's pretty clear that we ought to be worrying more about steak and roast than about who's humping whom. Make Love, Not Hambugers.

*I'm not kidding. Livestock account for about 20% of emissions of greenhouse gases--more than all the transportation fuel burned in the world.

Since I've been a vegetarian since 1969, little of that is on my account. I have carbon credit to spare. I think I'll go get laid 32,500 times for every cow I didn't consume. See you in a bit.

Oh, before I go--Happy New Year!


Jen Ster said...

I feel so much better. And here I was thinking all that consensual cunnilingus was steaming up the rain forests all over the planet. Thanks for putting my mind at ease.

As for belching cows, I'd like to be a vegetarian and can't (hypoglycemia + pernicious anemia = must eat meat to live). And I'm, ahem, a FRICKIN' BUDDHIST. Maybe we could develop a kind of offset for that. Like, say, you agree to continue eating vegetarian on my behalf, and then I agree not to have kids on your behalf. Additional humans, after all (especially additional humans in the Western world, which will consume much more resources over a lifetime) are probably the biggest threat to world ecology. In fact, Joan says she'll help and not have kids either, so you're getting two offsets for the price of a mere vegetarian diet that you were already eating.

There. Wasn't that easy?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

Even though I still worry that our ever-dwindling species will die out without my participation,
I already didn't have kids on my own behalf. Had a vasectomy just to be sure it didn't happen by accident.

I haven't really considered the global-warming implications of Buddhism. Maybe we should ask the Pope?

Jake Jesson said...

Not much to add, except... WIN. (Pardon my netspeak.)

I assume you don't mind if I link this. And, happy New Year!

Charles Lambert said...

This is just the kind of information I needed, David. Thank you. Now I can organize my sexual and energy needs on a proper rational basis.

chris said...

David, I have to say I'm a little disappointed with the research here. The Pope has clearly done more work in this area, and it shows.

First, and perhaps most obviously, it is often the case (particularly with this specific variety of sex) that non-perishable latex waste products are produced as a part of the process. The carbon cost of these is tricky to work out but cannot be ignored.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you are assuming that the whole process starts off at the insertion point. This, clearly, is nonsense, and something of a slur to the gay community. There could have been hours of exhaling (both during speech and perhaps more enthusiastically later), which will significantly alter your numbers. Even worse, a car could have been driven several miles. Or two cars. Or even, in extreme circumstances, a transatlantic flight. Drinks may have been consumed; food may have been eaten. Perhaps a bonfire was made, and a guitar played. All of these have quite enormous carbon implications, and none of these do you even acknowledge.

You are doing the Pope's researchers a considerable disservice by publishing this sort of atheistic, homophobic claptrap.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Charles--

You're welcome. But note the cautionary caveats from Chris Rae below.

Please pass my holiday greetings on to your pal at the Vatican.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Chris--

No one is able to distinguish between the eating, drinking, and travel done in pursuit of sex and that done for other reasons.

On the other hand, I admit I overlooked the bonfires and guitar playing. Oh, and the latex. But I don't feel that invalidates the results of this research. To me it just suggests that I should get a large government grant for Further Study.