23 October 2009

Carbon Reductionism & Canine Conundrums

Excerpt from Planet Ark, 23 October 2009

'They're faithful, friendly and furry - but under their harmless, fluffy exteriors, dogs and cats, the world's most popular house pets, use up more energy resources in a year than driving a car, a new book says.

In their book "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living," New Zealand-based architects Robert and Brenda Vale say keeping a medium-sized dog has the same ecological impact as driving 10,000 km (6,213 miles) a year in a 4.6 liter Land Cruiser...

Calculating that the modern Fido chows through about 164 kg of meat and 95 kg of cereals a year, the Vales estimated the ecological footprint of cats and dogs, based on the amount of land needed to grow common brands of pet food...constructing and driving the jeep for a year requires 0.41 hectares of land, while growing and manufacturing a dog's food takes about 0.84 ha - or 1.1 ha in the case of a large dog such as a German shepherd. Meat-eating swells the eco-footprint of canines, and felines are not that much better, the Vales found...'


Every single activity has an impact - it is important to know what those impacts are to enable us to make good decisions, but the carbon cost-benefit analysis that only counts carbon is as myopic as a conventional cost-benefit analysis that only counts dollars.

A world without dogs? Those critters that lower blood pressure, provide security, love and companionship and serve human beings in a myriad of ways from customs, to police work to people with a disability?

Is this where we are heading? A world of constant trade offs and eco-martyrdom?

Do dogs have a right to exist like wild species? If we are going to do this by ranking how 'bad' a carbon impact is, how about we cull elephants instead? After all, what use are they? [devil's advocate, all species have intrinsic worth and the right to exist].

And what - as a dog lover, who has always had a dog in my life and knows the joy they bring - of my own eco-hypocrisy? What about people who love cars and not dogs?

Carbon reductionism is not the most sensible approach, but if people insist on it, why can't we get rid of 'boomerang trade' [exporting and importing like goods] first before doing away with dogs?

  • '5,000 tonnes of toilet paper from the UK to Germany, but then the UK imports over 4,000 tonnes back again from Germany

  • 22,000 tonnes of potatoes imported from Egypt to UK and then the UK exports 27,000 tonnes back to Egypt

  • 4,400 tonnes of ice cream gets exported from the UK to Italy, and 4,200 tonnes is then imported back

  • 116 tonnes of ‘sweet biscuits, waffles and wafers, gingerbread and the like’ comes into the UK, rumbling past 106 tonnes headed in the opposite direction

  • Ships, lorries and planes wastefully carrying often identical goods from city to city across the globe and back again...'
The Vales point out:

"Once you see where (cats and dogs) fit in your overall balance of things - you might decide to have the cat but not also to have the two cars and the three bathrooms and be a meat eater yourself.'

Exactly - so how is the overall impact reduced? How many people will use their 'carbon savings' ['I don't eat meat'/'I don't fly'/'I'm not having kids'] to 'spend' on other consumption ['...then I can fly'/'then I will eat that steak'/'then I will have two dogs']?

I have seen some mind boggling comments on this issue in recent times - from a post in response to an online article in which a woman said she would not be giving up eating red meat so people in the third world could 'continue to breed', to the idiocy articulated by right wing commentator Rush Limbaugh today, in which he suggested a journalist who is expressing concerns about population growth and climate change commit suicide as his contribution!

Carbon reductionism and blame games are not the best approach.

We need to think much more robustly, beyond carbon, and how we can envision quality of life within ecological limits - but while we are arguing about this and figuring it out, could we please start with designing out wastefulness and existing nonsensical activity like boomerang trade and the hideous waste of food?

Maggie: "...but I don't even eat potatoes..."


  1. Dogs are external sensory organs that support our survival program. When the lights go out a good dog will be worth ten SUVs. (or a hundred)
    Maggie has a dear sweet face. We don't chose dog or no dog they are part of us. My work (berryfarm.com) is about food that nourishes so that I have the energy to work (solarincome.com) at keeping the lights on.
    Keep on keeping on, Aubrey

  2. >When the lights go out a good dog will be worth ten SUVs. (or a hundred)

    Agree, Aubrey! Thanks for the comment! Maggie waves a paw.


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