Integrity of Science: Driving vs. Walking: Cows, Climate Change, and Choice

walk drive

Published: April 2008
Authors: Michael Cohen, Matthew Heberger
This case study was originally published in the Pacific Institute’s Integrity of Science Blog (2006-2007).
Read more entries by searching keywords “Integrity of Science Blog” on our Publications page.

Despite recent, high-profile media claims that walking is worse for the planet than driving, a Pacific Institute analysis shows that when it comes to your carbon footprint, results vary significantly based on the factors assumed. The environmental impacts of our choices require a discerning look.

Looking at the numbers behind the surprising assertion, the Institute’s calculations find driving generates less lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions only when the food used to fuel walking the same distance is extremely greenhouse-gas-intensive—like all beef. When more realistic assumptions about the walker’s varied diet are taken into consideration, the conclusion is actually reversed. If an average American diet is used, walking—even for a group of four—makes more sense for the environment than driving.

Driving vs. Walking: Cows, Climate Change, and Choice” also compares the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with driving, bicycling, and walking a given distance, each fueled by steak, ground beef, 2% milk, nonfat milk, an American vegan’s diet, and a typical American’s diet.

Download Driving vs. Walking

Download the calculations (.xls)