I thought it was about time, given our editor’s interest in the ancient history of dog mushing, that we brought all of our avid readers up to speed in the new millennium. I had a conversation with a young musher who was amazed that I had recollection of mushing events in the 1970’s, particularly since he was sharp enough to know that his parents hadn’t even been born at that time. This kind of conversation sets the clock for your author, and therefore I am determined to give the reader a modern reliable context by which they can distinguish themselves at a formal dinner party and intelligently talk about “Mushing’s Carbon Footprint”— the subject of this month’s Runyan Journals. We all watched Big Brown at the Kentucky Derby, the distant cousin of Mushdom, and of course we expected Pamela Anderson to make a few comments about the sport of horse racing. She was conspicuously absent, however, since we all forgot that she announced in 2006 that she was boycotting the sport of horse racing and would no longer be in attendance at the Derby, despite admitting it was fun to wear a new hat. Some observers suspected that she was miffed that Kentucky Fried Chicken, a prime PETA target, was the presenting sponsor at the Derby, but she maintained that the horses were exploited, the central thesis of her reasoning. One wonders what she thinks about the way sled dogs exploit horses as they leave their special carbon footprint on the race trails of our great nation. Or, is there another way to look at carbon, nature’s building block?But, wait just a second, before we get off track. Paul McCartney, (at age 65, he is as old as dirt) the former Beatle, has been instructively thinking a lot lately about his carbon footprint. Sir Paul, as we all know, is a vocal advocate of vegetarianism and a poster child for environmental activism. He did a big 2005 world tour, a metaphorical musical Iditarod, for Lexus because he likes hybrid cars. Since the money he received for promoting the Lexus hybrid was only a secondary consideration for the highly evolved crooner, one can imagine his metaphysical delight when Lexus offered him, as a gift, a new hybrid vehicle. He chose the very carbon light Lexus LS600H, a hybrid limousine, which cost only £84,000 (in the battered US dollar-about $166,300).On his way to a good night’s sleep, however, Paul was “horrified” to learn in the morning that his new Lexus hybrid limousine was air shipped from Japan to London on a Korean Air Flight that left a couple thousand mile plume of jet-b diesel smoke in the stratosphere floating listlessly to the ozone hole above Antarctica. Get out the calculator! Pundits rounded off the numbers and Paul’s hybrid appears to have left a carbon footprint about 100 times bigger than if it had come by sea on a boat—as if shipping a hybrid limo on a boat is an acceptable carbon footprint. Are any dog mushers sharing his angst?Surprisingly, Craig Medred, the normally acerbic, topical, and observant Iditarod commentator at the Anchorage Daily News, failed to notice the train of big diesel trucks arriving for the Fur Rendezvous and Iditarod 2008. Has he even thought about Carbon Footprint? Doesn’t he know that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, despite posting a whopper power bill at his Nashville, Tennessee mansion approaching $30,000/year? I looked at some of the dog trucks with double exhaust pipes rising over cabs and thought at first that a locomotive engine had jumped the track somewhere in Wisconsin or Minnesota and rumbled up the Al-Can highway, belching carbon like a train crossing Siberia in the movie Dr. Zhivago.I have to contemplate my own contribution to the problem and make an admission. Training my Iditarod kennel of 30 adults, for example, at a conservative 3,500 kcal/day, rounds off to a 100,000 kcal/day, or, in more understandable terms, about one horse the size of Big Brown every twelve to fourteen days. But, my true commitment to the sport may be best exemplified by my pathetic effort in the 1990 Alpirod. In fact, it may be the benchmark for all future mushers contemplating their carbon footprint, and hopefully will stand to quell modern musher anxieties.My entourage of twenty-four dogs, gear, sleds, and kids, including extra neighbor kids, departed Nenana at minus fifty below zero loaded in a one-ton crew cab Chevy with a fuel economy of about five miles/gallon. In the early morning January ice fog a postal delivery truck rear-ended us near Anderson. I called reinforcements and an extra truck arrived at the wreck to transport us to Anchorage—just in time for the flight to Frankfurt, Germany. After the dogs had spent almost 20 hours in crates, we got through German customs, and transferred the dogs to a large cargo van and started a marathon drive to Italy for the race start. Since we couldn’t find any snow for a training run, I stretched out a gang line in front of the van and had the dogs limber up by pulling the van on a gravel road for a couple of miles.Ten minutes after pulling the hook on the first stage of the race, we descended down a particularly dicey slope. One of my team dogs slipped his collar, backed out of his harness, and escaped. At the bottom of the hill, I tied the team down, jumped on a snowmachine and eventually recovered my dog. At the same time, the Race Marshal, Al Crane, was contemplating my disqualification for using motorized assistance. Despite my best arguments, like, “I just flew half-way around the world and spent twenty grand to race the Alpirod,” I had to philosophically savor my ten minutes on the back of a sled in the European Alps. (Later, I worked with the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports, a GAIF member operating under international sports law that governs the Olympics, and realized that I should have appealed the ruling—a subject for another article.) I hadn’t even considered, in the misery of the moment, as the cloud of diesel smoke from my trans-Atlantic flight drifted languidly over the Canary Islands en route to Africa, that I probably hold the record for largest carbon footprint per sled dog effort in the history of mushing. In fact, even a sprint musher in the limited class on a six mile trail driving a one-ton crew cab gets more dog driving miles per ton of diesel fuel carbon. In this context, I believe I have decisively beaten Paul McCartney’s carbon footprint, since I had to fly the dogs out of Europe, back across the Atlantic, and traverse North America to Alaska. Paul’s hybrid Lexus limo just made a wimpy one-way hop from Japan to England. I am still debating with myself whether it’s a source of pride or dubious distinction.But one thing is clear—it’s a political issue. This May, I was able to sit in on part of the “global warming hearings” held in Washington DC by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. These hearings contemplated everything from the impact of the power sector industry to the contribution of off road use of ATV vehicles on federal lands to global warming. I was also able to talk to Senator Domenici from NM, the ranking Republican on the committee, for a perspective on the impact of caps on carbon production and a credit system to make carbon contributors pay. Primarily at issue is a plan to cap the carbon footprint of American industry at a certain level and make excessive contributors of carbon (and therefore contributors to global warming) pay. It is a complicated plan with disagreeing proponents. Basically, if you arrive at the start of the Iditarod with a Smart Car with a 50hp engine getting 45 miles to the gallon, you’re helping to reduce global warming and you didn’t use up your government issued carbon credits. Probably, by nature, as a Smart Car driver, you don’t idle the engine to keep the heater on, further minimizing your carbon footprint.On the other hand, if you arrive with a one-ton diesel crew cab pulling a thirty-foot trailer loaded with a four-wheeler and a snowmachine, you are probably what we call euphemistically in the industry as an “excessive carbon credit user.” It’s possible, as a one ton diesel owner, that you like to leave the engine running to keep the cab heater on, and enjoy waxing your sled runners while the portable generator hums in the background and produces enough power to light an Iditarod checkpoint.Since you, the driver of the one-ton diesel, exceeded your carbon “cap,” you are obligated to buy some carbon “credits” to cover your excessive production of carbon. Hopefully, you are good friends with the Smart Car musher who has some extra credits to sell you directly. The price of the credits is determined by supply and demand in the private market. In practice, it is anticipated that a middleman will soon enter the picture—-maybe Craig Medred will quit the Anchorage Daily News and start buying carbon credits from Smart Car mushers and sell them to the big diesel burners. Then, the big diesel user could buy sufficient carbon credits to become, on the books, carbon “neutral.” This is exactly what Al Gore, in his defense, did by voluntarily purchasing green credits (electricity produced by renewable sources like solar and wind) to become carbon neutral, despite owning a mansion and a private jet.Even though it may seem far-fetched to a dog musher, the idea of using carbon credits for individuals is gaining traction. Europeans are embracing the idea. And, after all, the US Senate contemplated the use of ATV’s on federal land as a source of carbon, ergo Global Warming. Just for the mental exercise, consider the Iditarod as it traverses a thousand plus miles of public land. Is it as green as a heavy metal concert, a bicycle race, a kayak race, or the Indy 500? Establishing the trail, and shipping straw, gear, food, fuel for cookers, and extra sleds to checkpoints, and transporting veterinarians, volunteers, and officials along the trail and shipping dogs from the trail back to Anchorage and shipping teams and gear from Nome to Anchorage is a fossil fuel intensive project involving teams of snowmachiners and countless sorties by a fleet of airplanes. This past winter, as an Iditarod participant, I was amazed at the constant background noise of aircraft activity over the Iditarod trail.While we may philosophically consider dog mushing a “green” sport, is it really any different than a snowmachine race? On a personal level, I have a hard time thinking past my next meal, and I probably hold a record for the largest musher carbon footprint, but I know one thing is for sure—just like Al Gore’s power bill, mushing’s carbon footprint is now a topical subject.Joe Runyan lives in Cliff, New Mexico and guides and outfits in the Gila Wilderness. He has officiated sled dog races in Europe as well as South and North America. Winner of Iditarod, Yukon Quest, and Alpirod, he now provides commentary and writes mushing, outdoor, and hunting articles. Runyan’s Winning Strategies for Distance Mushers (1997) is available from the author. Contact Joe at email@example.com.
Dog scootering involves having your dog(s) pull you on a wheeled scooter whilst attached via