Time to eat your dog?
Should owning a Great Dane make you as much of an eco-outcast as an SUV driver? Yes it should, say Robert and Brenda Vale, two architects at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who specialise in sustainable living. In their book, “Time to Eat the Dog? The real guide to sustainable living”, they compare the ecological footprints of popular pets with those of various other lifestyle choices - and pets do not fare well.
As well as guzzling resources, especially eating processed meat which requires a high input of resources, cats and dogs devastate wildlife populations, spread disease and add to pollution. It is time that we recognized the ecological footprint of our pets.
To measure the paw, claw and fin-prints of the family pet, the Vales analysed the ingredients of common brands of pet food. They calculated, for example, that a medium-sized dog would consume 90gms of meat and 156gms of cereals daily in its recommended 300gm portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450gms of fresh meat and 260gms of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, your dog will wolf down about 164kgs of meat and 95kgs of cereals. It takes 43.3sq m of land to generate 1kg of chicken per year (it is far more for beef and lamb), and 13.4sq m of land to generate 1kg of cereals. So that gives him a footprint for an average dog of 0.84 hectares. For a bigger dog such as a German Shepherd, the figure would be 1.1 hectares.
Meanwhile, an SUV such as a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser driven a modest 10,000 kms a year will uses 55.1 gigajoules, of energy both to fuel it and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser's eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares – which is less than half that of a medium-sized dog.
Owning a dog really is an ecological extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat.
The Vales found that cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares (slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf), hamsters come in at 0.014 hectares apiece (buy two, and you might as well have bought a plasma TV) and canaries half that. Even a goldfish requires 0.00034 hectares (3.4 sq m) of land to sustain it, giving it an ecological fin-print equal to two cellphones.
What can we do about this? We could:
- Give up owning a pet altogether for environmental reasons. If we are unwilling to do that, then…
- Trade down first to smaller pets, and then to vegetarian pets.
- And if in the end, you must have a pet, probably go for a goldfish.
- Or why not get a virtual pet? www.virtualpet.com/vp/links/links.htm