Pets: Great for people, bad for the environment?
Robert and Brenda Vale, specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington in Wellington, New Zealand, and authors of Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, found that the carbon footprint of a typical pet dog is equal to that of an SUV, taking into account data related to dogs’ food consumption. The researchers collected data from popular brands of pet food and found that a medium-sized dog eats about 360 pounds of meat per year and about 209 pounds of cereal per year.
Combined with the land required to produce the food, an average dog’s food consumption results in an annual carbon footprint of 0.84 hectares (2.07 acres). A typical SUV that travels about 12,000 miles per year has an annual footprint of about 0.82 hectares (2.02 acres), a number that includes the energy used to build the car.
Using the same consumption model, the Vales found that cats have a carbon footprint of about 0.15 hectares (0.37 acres), slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year. Two hamsters have a carbon footprint equal to a plasma television. Even goldfish have a footprint equal to two cell phones.
In addition, pets’ feces impact the environment, the researchers say. Dogs that eliminate near rivers and streams can pollute the water and kill aquatic life, and cat owners who flush cat feces down the toilet can ultimately infect aquatic animals with toxoplasma gondii.
Reha Huttin, president of France’s 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation, refuted the researchers’ findings, stating that pets’ benefits outweigh their shortcomings. “Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly,” she says. “I think the love we have for our animals and what they contribute to our lives outweighs the environmental considerations.”
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