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Nov 15 2009

Time To Eat The Dog?

I bike to work; I do not drive;
My thermostat’s on “chilly”.
I compost; I recycle; I
Think wasting fuel is silly.
I have a backyard garden, where
I grow my corn and beans;
I can my own tomatoes, and
I patch my old, torn jeans.
I try to purchase locally
From stores that show they care,
And speak at local gatherings
To make us all aware.
I’m doing all I know to do;
I’m hedging all my bets…
But now, I hear the latest news:
It’s time to eat our pets.

Our pets have carbon footprints,
Just the same as you or me,
And Lassie has the impact of
A good-sized S.U.V.
The meat it takes to feed a pet
Should make you think a bit
And that’s before we mention all
The tons and tons of shit.
Our dogs, of course, reflect ourselves,
In how much we consume
It’s time for some reflection here,
Ere Fido meets his doom.
With lots of bigger targets here
Before I roast my bitch;
You want to save the planet?
Then it’s time to eat the rich.

Both the BBC and the Guardian (UK) report on the provocatively-titled “Time to eat the dog?“, which takes an interesting new approach to analyzing our environmental impact.

Instead of measuring emissions of CO2, or CO2 equivalent, they calculate the literal footprint or “global hectare” (gha) – the amount of land it takes to support a given activity.

So they work out that constructing and driving the Land Cruiser for a year takes 0.41 gha.

Growing and manufacturing the 164kg of meat and 95kg of cereals a border collie or cocker spaniel eats every year takes about 0.84 gha.

A bigger dog such as a German shepherd consumes even more – its pawprint is more like 1.1 gha.

By their reckoning, that is more than the environmental footprint of the average Indian person, who uses just 0.8 gha of resources.

If you are a multiple dog owner you are in even more trouble. Two big dogs have a bigger carbon footprint than some British citizens.

According to the book the average resident of Cardiff requires just 1.89 gha.

The average American, by contrast, requires a whopping 9.5 gha.

Taking a closer look at that 0.84 gha figure for a border collie, New Scientist points out (in an editorial titled “Cute, fluffy, and horribly greedy”):

If that’s troubling, there is an even more shocking comparison. In 2004, the average citizen of Vietnam had an ecological footprint of 0.76 hectares. For an Ethiopian, it was just 0.67 hectares. In a world where scarce resources are already hogged by the rich, can we really justify keeping pets that take more than some people?

As I have known for some time now, I am clearly part of the problem. We all are, in a global Tragedy of the Commons.

We need to become part of the solution. If using Fido or Fluffy gets people’s attention, then the authors’ unusual approach has done its job. Judging from the comments on various news articles, though, there is a significant population who won’t quite get the point of the book.

Oh… for those who think the “Time to eat the dog?” people go too far, you might not want to click here.

UPDATE: Ah, it seems it was too bad to be true, or at least too bad to be accurate. Take a look here for a nice skeptical look at the analysis. (In a nutshell, the researchers underestimated the impact of SUVs, and overestimated the impact of dogs; the majority of pet food comes from “byproducts” of the production of food for humans, and cannot be meaningfully seen as competing for the same scarce resources. On the other hand, the Guardian article did focus on a trend of gourmet dog food, which does use the same cuts of meat that people eat. It is, admittedly, a small part of the market.)

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3 comments

1 ping

  1. 1
    Maharanivrnda

    Dogs can also be vegetarian………see here: http://www.veggiepets.com/A few of my friends have happy healthy vegetarian dogs :-)

  2. 2
    Bob O'H

    I hope my wife doesn't see this – she'll want to feed my cat to her frugivorous birds.

  3. 3
    Anonymous

    Maybe you can help us understand this a little better because SOME of us have an exam on it.:)

  1. 4
    time to eat the dog by digital cuttlefish analysis » The Digital Cuttlefish

    […] along with similar searches, has led to my site many times over the past few years, since “Time To Eat The Dog?” was included in a textbook in […]

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