Piles of Poop

Until recently I thought little about what happens when my dog poops. We live outside the city so when she poops by a pasture I let it sit there. What’s one little pile o’ poop in the grand natural scheme?

Then I did the math. If my dog’s daily pile is multiplied by the daily piles generated by the 72 million other dogs in America (= 274 pounds per pooch annually) that’s 19.7 BILLION steaming pounds of poop a year.

If we don’t scoop, it gets into our streams, ponds and rivers, causing sickening levels of fecal coliform bacteria, feeding weeds and algae that choke the waterways and deprive the water of oxygen.

Dog poop carries a variety of other pathogens and parasites that can live on in our lawns for years and infect children who play there and adults who cultivate it. And these pathogens and parasites won’t die in your compost pile.

So now I’m a believer – I scoop.

For now I collect it in the plastic bag my newspaper comes in, then flush it down the toilet where it will be joined at a treatment plant with I hate to think how much people poop. (Cat poop and disposable diapers are a topic for another day…)

But whether or not you’ve got a pooping pet, there’s a much larger lesson here.

We think of ourselves as single players whose actions and inactions are just drops in the national, global or universal bucket. Until we do the multiplication we are unaware of how our individual acts add up.

Even then, we don’t want to conserve at our end if everyone else isn’t also doing their part… why should we suffer alone?

Garrett Hardin wrote a famous essay for the journal Science back in 1968 called the “Tragedy of the Commons” to describe this phenomenon.

The commons is a resource shared by a group or society – like rivers, oceans, the atmosphere, fish stocks, the national parks. In Britain, shepherds often shared local pastureland, which is the example Hardin used. Each shepherd wants to get the most out of this shared resource so he will add sheep if he has the means to do so. Each herder notes that the other herders are adding sheep, so why shouldn’t he? But with each sheep added, the quality of the pasture for all is reduced. No ONE takes responsibility. Ultimately, this leads to overgrazing and the degradation of the resource.

It’s time for each of us to do our part. Our children’s future depends on it.