Utne Blogs > Environment

Your Pet Is a Global Warming Machine

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: Environment, pets, dogs, cats, global warming, climate change, ecologicla footprint, New Scientist,

Global Warming DogThough some environmentalists love their dogs more than they love their Sierra Club reusable water bottles, a single dog can have a bigger ecological footprint than an SUV. And cats aren’t much better. According to research highlighted by the New Scientist, it takes an estimated 1.1 hectares of land per year to create the chicken and grain that a large dog eats for its food. A Toyota Land Cruiser SUV, driven 10,000 kilometres a year, would use .41 hectares of land, less than half that of the dog. 

"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance," Dr. John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, UK told the New Scientist, "mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat." 

Cats and dogs also wreak havoc on the local wildlife. The estimated 7.7 million cats in the United Kingdom kill more than 188 million wild animals every year. And cat excrement, which can contain the disease Toxoplasma gondii, has been blamed for killing sea otters (and may have a hand in causing schizophrenia in humans, according to RadioLab).*

The New Scientist has some suggestions of how to lessen Fido’s ecological “pawprint,” including feeding him more environmentally friendly foods. Perhaps forcing people to consider the impact of their pets may keep the carbon footprint on a leash.

Source: New ScientistRadioLab 

Image by Bodlina, licensed under Creative Commons.

*Correction: The word "can" has been added to this sentence. Millions of people are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, according to WebMD, and cats are one of the most common ways that people can get it. Though not all cat cxcrement contains the disease.

todd
5/10/2014 9:23:27 PM

Interesting. The reason I no longer have cats is because of the devastating effects they have on the bird-life. If they only ate rats I would probably have 5 of them. I'm not sure I would enjoy life as much without a couple of dogs though. I live in the mountains, and aside from the companionship they are actually useful in several areas. For one, they keep the bobcats away from my chickens. I could not even consider free ranging chickens without a dog. Also, my wife and I sleep a little more soundly knowing that if a human threat ever did wander down our lonely mountain driveway the dogs WILL let me know. When my wife hikes she takes a dog. Whenever I encounter a woman on the trail I always try and put myself in her position. In this crazy world I wouldn't dare hike without a dog if I was female. I hope I am not coming off as too paranoid but there are many other (non-paranoid) functions dogs perform; which is why we domesticated them in the first place. I do think that too many city people probably have dogs; especially the ones who are left in an apartment all day. I think a bigger problem is 7 billion people in the world. Dogs didn't seem to be a problem until hum ans over-populated. Just my .02.


schneb
8/5/2011 11:58:40 AM

THis reads like a propaganda piece--how is a 'carbon footprint' defined in this case? Seems like the amount of carbon generated by driving an SUV vs. a dog (the waste from which is reclaimed? . . . er, sort of :-) ) are two very different things. Also, the manufacturing of a car should be considered. Did someone sneak into Utne and slip this bit of disinfo onto a server? A payment made in a dark alley? Apologies for suggesting dishonesty, but I've seen articles and stories in other publications/news outlets that seemed like well placed propaganda. This wouldn't come across as such if it gave a more careful, step-by-step explanation of how the comparisons were made. (btw--an example of well placed propaganda: it was a while ago, but I heard a story on the local NPR outlet about Canadians taking chartered buses to the U.S. to medical care because they didn't want to wait/couldn't get such in Canada. I tried to look up the story on the station's site and in general on the internet. No luck. It seemed to have slipped into the announcers hands from somewhere and then poof, disappeared. Other stories also serve various interests in a seemingly calculated manner and FAIR gives a pretty thorough coverage of corporate produced news segments.)


pfer
7/26/2011 11:27:13 AM

re. Patti: If humans are by far the MOST detrimental to the environment of any species, then surely it's because of what we do--the choices we make. Like the choice of owning pets. And because, when evidence is presented that our personal choices have a large impact on the environment, we simply refuse to countenance the idea. Or they rationalise "it doesn't matter what my impact is, because someone else's is bigger". Pet owners are a lot like SUV owners in this regard. Rapacious and unconscious indeed.


patti
6/14/2010 8:17:34 AM

I have to say I am surprised at this article and by Utne of all magazines to print something so lightweight that one has to wonder "what was the intent?" Humans are by far the MOST detrimental to the environment of any species. Everything that lives and eats on this planet has a footprint of some size but there is no species as rapacious and unconscious of the place upon which they rely for existence as humans are today. Really, this article is not worth the bytes it uses. And the comparison to SUV's is silly. How about the people who have 2 or 3 SUV's or other vehicles per family, and own a boat, and have motorcyles or ATV's, and travel frequently by airplane, and redecorate their houses every couple of years, and have second homes, and drive two blocks to the post office, and commute to work, and shop regularly at Walmart and Costco? No cat or dog I know engages in any of these activities unless the owners inflict it upon them. Yes, outdoor cats do kill birds, rats, bunnies and other small animals. Dogs, unless they are feral, not so much. Sure they have a footprint, but in comparison to humans it is nothing. As Annie suggests, pet-owners need to be aware of the resources they use for all their activities, including having pets. But that is something that everyone should do, and sadly the majority does not.


darlene motley_2
11/4/2009 8:05:43 AM

I have to agree with some of the comments. This is the first article I've read on Utne that seems so under researched and short that I question what the goal of the article was. If it was to incite fear and discussion, I suppose it is effective. If it was to offer useful information and open the dialogue based on the info, well it fell short. It's a shame that it offers no real details or resources to really look at the issue on any useful level.


annie ory
11/4/2009 6:14:36 AM

Yani, Western babies ARE global warming machines. I am always deeply disturbed by people who, as you have here, dismiss out of hand any information they dislike. The simple truth is there are a lot of very good reasons for considering the impact of pet ownership. Much of the food pets eat is fish meal, taken from the oceans by massive machine driven scooping nets on huge ships, then moved around the globe, processed, and more, while people are starving for lack of food in some parts of the world. No, that is not to suggest that you shouldn't have a dog because there are proverbial children starving in Africa, but it does mean you RESPONSIBLE for being aware of your global impact, including that caused by pet ownership, and WORKING to lessen it in every way you can. Being a progressive isn't something you get to claim if it only applies to changes you want to see OTHER people make...


yani
11/3/2009 3:28:12 PM

I'm disappointed with this article for a number of reasons. There are vague statements made as facts, First, cats are carnivores and dogs are omnivores. Cats require a meat diet, dogs not as much. Dogs most likely don't leave a bigger footprint than we do, and cats eat a small amount of food, again not comparable to our own footprints. Babies eat food too, so maybe we should have an article that babies are global warming machines. The premise of this article is ridiculous. Cats CAN acquire Toxoplasma gondii from eating birds that carry it, but to say that cats have Toxoplasma gondii is misleading. Anyone who has done even simple research on this subject knows cats don't simply have it. They get it from eating infected birds. Most indoor cats would never even be exposed to this. People can get it also from handling raw meat that has is infected with it. I love Utne Reader, but this was lame.


san_1
11/3/2009 1:25:05 PM

Certainly worth more than the waste of resources, suffering and footprint needed to feed $1 hamburgers to fatsos.