Woof! Your Pet’s Carbon Footprint
I’m a dog fanatic. When I see a dog walking his or her human(s), I say hello to the pooch, not the human! It’s terribly rude, I keep failing at changing this behavior. I simply adore dogs!
That’s why this post is tough to write. It’s about the carbon footprint of our beloved furry family members. There are many dimensions to this discussion, and in true Alchemus Prime fashion, they relate to the deep interconnected nature of climate change and wellness. Let’s examine each of the dimensions of the issue of “carbon paw prints:”
Meat & Land
Dogs (and cats) are carnivores, and much of their impact stems from this fact. Here’s how an article in Salon sums it up:
An average-sized dog consumes about 360 pounds of meat in a year and about 210 pounds of cereal. Taking into account the amount of land it takes to generate that amount of food and the energy used, that makes your dog quite the carbon hound. A 2009 study by New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington concluded that pet dogs have carbon paw prints double that of a typical SUV. John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute, in York, Great Britain, confirmed the results of the New Zealand study. “Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat,” Barrett told New Scientist Magazine.
Another way of looking at the impact of our pets is to compare them to vehicles. Authors Robert and Brenda Vale did the math and apparently:
A medium-sized dog has the same impact as a Toyota Land Cruiser driven 6,000 miles a year, while a cat is equivalent to a Volkswagen Golf.
Of course, some of us buy SUVs to transport our pooches, so that’s double trouble for the climate.
I’m a vegan who doesn’t drive, y’all. And, I dream about having two medium or large dogs someday. But, as a climate change professional, I don’t know how to fulfill my dream AND maintain my integrity.
It turns out that having a dog is expensive, and can become an extension of a materialistic lifestyle, with even more STUFF – plastic bags, toys, processed foodstuffs, and so on. The news is not good:
Pet product sales are expected to grow to $95 billion by 2017. Only a few corporations control 80 percent of the worldwide market for pet food, companies like Mars, Proctor and Gamble, and Colgate… Starting with the meat that constitutes most of the product itself, to the materials used to produce and package the food, and ending with the trucks that bring the products to market, all are enormously damaging to the planet. Fossil fuel is used all along the production line and carbon pollution is significant, as well as pollution from fertilizers, pesticides and the final product, animal waste.
It gets worse. Dog poop is harmful to humans, waterways, and the planet in general:
In the U.S…. dogs [cause] 10 million tons of waste a year. In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency placed canine feces in the same category of pollutant as oil, herbicides, insecticides, and other deadly contaminants. Dog waste is full of bacteria that is harmful to humans, causing cramps, diarrhea, kidney problems, and many other intestinal illnesses. According to the EPA, waste from just 100 dogs could produce enough bacteria in three days to close a bay and all watersheds within 20 miles to all shellfish fishing and swimming.
Dogs and cats can threaten endangered species. According to the Science Encyclopedia:
In many places, vulnerable native species have been decimated by non-native species imported by humans. Predators like domestic cats and dogs, herbivores like cattle and sheep, diseases, and broadly-feeding omnivores like pigs have killed, starved, and generally outcompeted native species after introduction.
There are two aspects to wellness I want to address. The first is very obvious: our own well being. Pets improve our lovey-dovey feelings and social bonding by stimulating the release of oxytocin, they reduce our stress, and help with our loneliness with their unconditional love and companionship. The prospect of living without that, as I do now, is not welcome to me.
But the second aspect of wellness is even more important to me: pets’ well being. When we domesticate dogs and cats, we “train” them, which seems to me a euphemism for controlling them and punishing them until they lose much of their natural predatory and survival instincts. Then, they can live with us and be on our leashes. What about their natural tendencies, instincts, and desires to be free, to roam, to hunt, and to simply be themselves?
At Alchemus Prime we help our clients find and hone their true selves. I feel very uncomfortable that we so often take that true nature away from animals and subject them to our lifestyles and whims. If anything, this would the main reason that I would never own a pet again. Even that word, “own” is repugnant to me. I would never want to be owned by anyone.
So, my personal struggle continues, no doubt, but there are solutions that we can consider, especially if we already have and love our pets:
The choices we make as pet owners can reduce our pets’ carbon paw print. Beef production has a much higher environmental impact than chicken or fish production, so by avoiding pet foods (and human foods for that matter) derived from beef, we help reduce carbon pollution. Quit flushing the cat litter. Switch from clay litter to a more sustainable litter that is biodegradable. Keep your cat indoors to prevent her from killing birds. Don’t walk your dog near waterways (and wherever you walk him, pick up his waste). Don’t overfeed your pet. Like humans, pets are suffering from an obesity epidemic. Typically we now feed them two or three times the amount of protein they need, and it is the protein production that is most damaging to the planet (by feeding them less protein and a higher-quality food, they will produce less waste). Ask yourself if you really need all those pet toys, clothes and other paraphernalia adding to the tidal wave of carbon emissions and overfilled landfills. Please.
“This is really about a commercial system we have created,” notes Patricia Cameron, executive director of Green Calgary, a non-profit making the effort to reduce greenhouse gases. “When you look at dogs, their needs are very, very simple.”
And there you have it. Allow your pet to lead you to a simpler, more climate-conscious lifestyle. It will do you both, and the planet, a world of good!
With thanks to the intrepid (a)visionary at Alchemus Prime, Sundarajan, for suggesting this topic. You know me too well!