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To Save the Earth 2009: Keep Your Car, Dump Your Dog, Have Hens, Ride Bikes!

December 22, 2009

Don’t even think about getting a puppy for Christmas. New research argues that your dog’s carbon footprint is bigger than your SUVs.

Hard to believe, but when you compare all those cans of dog food with what it takes to run your car, it’s not even close–your dog’s carbon footprint is two times that of an SUV–depending on the make and model of your car and your dog, of course.

How could “man’s best friend” be one of the environment’s worst enemies? The book Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living by New Zealanders Robert and Brenda Vale, specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington, includes an analysis of popular brands of pet food and calculated that a medium-sized dog eats around 360 pounds/164 kilos of meat and 200 pounds/95 kilos of cereal a year.

The land required to generate the food for a “medium” sized dog requires 0.84 hectares/2.07 acres — around twice what’s used by a 4×4 driving 10,000 kilometres/6,200 miles a year, including the energy needed to build the car!

The results were confirmed in New Scientist magazine who asked John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain to calculate “eco-pawprints” based on his own data. “Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat,” said Barrett.

So what about cats and other pets?

According to the Vales, cats have an eco-footprint slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year; two hamsters equates  using a plasma television and goldfish burn the energy equivalent to two mobile telephones.

Reha Huttin, president of France’s 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation says the human impact of eliminating pets would be as devastating as getting rid of cars. Huttin, president of France’s 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation argues, “Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly. I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don’t eat meat, so why shouldn’t I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?”

It’s tempting to deny the shocking cost to the environment by keeping pets. Sylvie Comont’s seven cats and two dogs are the environmental equivalent of a small fleet of cars. “Our animals give us so much that I don’t feel like a polluter at all,” she claims. “I think the love we have for our animals and what they contribute to our lives outweighs the environmental considerations.

And then there’s the impact of pet poop plus some pets devastate wildlife, spread disease and pollute waterways, according to the Vales.

So what’s an animal lover to do?

Keeping cats in at night would help. Britain’s 7.7 million cats kill more than 188 million wild animals, averaging 25 birds, mammals and frogs per cat, according to figures in the New Scientist. Cats kept in at night live much longer however.

Walk leashed dogs in a park, not in wild areas. Areas frequented by dogs have decreased biodiversity; their feces make the water unsafe to drink, starving waterways of oxygen and killing aquatic life.

Cat owners should use pine litter which can be put in a garden, not clumping clay which gets flushed down the toilet which ultimately infects sea otters and other animals with toxoplasma gondii, which causes a killer brain disease.

Most importantly, reduce pets’ protein-rich meat intake.

So instead of a getting a German Shepherd or lab, get a smaller dog or animal and feed your pets on leftovers and scraps, such as fish heads so the impact will be lower. Or get a hen which lays edible eggs. Or keep rabbits, ducks or geese which can later be eaten.

Better yet, forget the car and ride your bike!

As much as our son would love a dog from Santa, he wants a bikergo like mine. Now we’ll tell him he’s helping to save the planet this way too.

Oh, and we’re getting chickens this spring. He wants a copy of the book reviewed in the video. Maybe Santa will bring him that with a gift certificate for chicks.

I found most of my information in this news report.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2010 4:33 pm

    My dog keeps me away from my PC atleast for an hour.So it reduces my carbon fooprint rather than increasing it.

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