Lessons from ‘Super Freakonomics’

When I read a book, I take my time. Not for any sense of deeper understanding, simply because I skipped that part of high school where they teach you how to devour a novel in a single day while sipping cocktails in a hammock. I am a bloody slow reader.

I am also a numbers guy. And I like meat and sex.

Super Freakonomics felt like a book that was written for me. It was easy enough to comprehend, thought provoking, intelligent and fun. It was not stuck up its own ass, and I really like that.

agriculture animals country farm
Climate change, wind farms, prostitution and sheep farts, Super Freakonomics has something for everyone. (Credit: Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Without a doubt the one fact that stood out to me among all others, and there were plenty, was the following:

“Cows – as well as sheep and other cud-chewing animals called ruminants – are wicked polluters. Their exhalation and flatulence and belching and manure emit methane, which by one common measure is about twenty-five times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide released by cars (and, by the way, humans). The world’s ruminants are responsible for about 50 percent more greenhouse-gas than the entire transportation sector.”

I could not handle being a wanker at BBQs for the rest of my life.

I read that paragraph three times before moving on, which took me longer than it would take you! It blew my mind, and when I finally did continue reading I was greeting with this:

“…locally produced food actually increases greenhouse-gas emissions… more than 80 percent of the emissions associated with food are in the production phase… shifting less than one day per week’s worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction than buying all locally sourced food.”

After I picked my jaw up off the floor I pondered what things might look like if our family went without beef and lamb. Mrs DD was horrified at the suggestion, she loves all greek food and couldn’t fathom the thought of also giving up good old fashioned Aussie chops or burgers. Considering she is gluten and dairy free, who am I to impose another limitation on her streamlined joys of eating?

So I considered myself as an isolated island of silent environmental activism. Could I undertake this on my own? I love a steak with my beer when eating out (in fact it is often one of the only decent meals my wife can order from most menus), however I could survive. Chicken would be my favourite of the meats, recently I enjoyed a delictable crocodile risotto and I am partial to kangaroo.

The book explains that “kangaroo farts, as fate would have it, don’t contain methane”. Apparently there is (or was) a group of Australian scientists “trying to replicate the digestive bacteria in kangaroos’ stomachs so it can be transplanted to cows”.

But then something hit me. BBQs.

I could not handle being a wanker at BBQs for the rest of my life. My favourite of all the social settings, the best way to partake in the bliss of outdoor beers and easily the most enjoyable form of cooking ever invented. I refuse to be that guy. I will not take that life-pleasure away from myself.

Not that being a vegetarian makes you a wanker, just that I would struggle to navigate the light hearted conversations in a non-wanker way. I believe in the power of a first impression, and I do not want all of my future first impressions to be… shit.

So, moving on. From meat to sex.

Prostituition is one of the only industries in the world that has seen a dramatic decrease in wage levels over the last century. And the reason is quite obvious, but I had never considered their pricing structure until now.

“…demand has fallen dramatically. Not the demand for sex. That is still robust. But prostituition, like any industry, is vulnerable to competition. Who poses the greatest competition to a prostitute? Simple: any woman who is willing to have sex with a man for free.”

Casual sex did not exist a century ago, let alone the phrases “one night stand” or “friends with benefits” or the modern app wonder that is Tinder.


Fascinatingly, one thorough research project that is referenced and discussed in detail in the book explained that prostitutes in Chicago were far better off employing the services of a pimp. Despite a steep 25% commission rate, those female sex workers that partnered with a pimp earned more money per week while doing less sex acts.

…it turns out that pimps attract a different level of clientele. Customers with more money believe they are destined for a better product via the services of a pimp and are less likely to haggle over price.

I had no idea (honestly), but it turns out that pimps attract a different level of clientele. Customers with more money believe they are destined for a better product via the services of a pimp and are less likely to haggle over price. Not only that, pimps in Chicago will actually regularly visit strip clubs and underground gambling syndicates recruiting clients.

“A prostitute who works with a pimp is less likely to be beaten up by a customer or forced into giving freebies to gang members.”

Similar to the idea of not eating beef or lamb for the good of our climate, these concepts about paid sex are foreign and fascinating to my ignorant mind. I loved learning all about it.

In conclusion I have decided I am going to keep eating meat and keep having sex.

And literally right now, as I finalise this post I am preparing the kids for a weekend trip to the library so I can swap the sequel for the best-selling initial and first offering entitled Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I am yet to read it and I hope they have it.

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