Man’s best friend, mankind’s worst enemy?

October 27, 2009

Cathal Kelly

{{GA_Article.Images.Alttext$}}A chocolate Labrador


A new book on sustainability suggests there is an environmental disaster lurking in your home. Maybe he’s looking at you right now, tongue hanging out, waiting for you to put down the newspaper and take him for his morning walkies.

According to New Zealand-based researchers Robert and Brenda Vale, large household pets chew up more resources than over-sized cars. And they are ever-so-gently suggesting that you might want to get rid of them.

“We used to have lots of cats. But we’ve got to the point where we feel that we shouldn’t,” Robert Vale said Monday from Wellington. “It’s quite sad. We were very fond of our cats.”

The Vales lay down the uncomfortable facts in their new book, Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living. Robert Vale isn’t actually suggesting that you eat your dog. Not while he’s still healthy at least. But you might want to “recycle” him when … well, you know.

According to their figures, feeding a medium-sized dog for a year has twice the environmental impact of driving a luxury SUV for 10,000 kilometres.

The Vales based their calculations on the amount of acreage needed to sustain the dog’s diet of 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals in a year – both figures measuring food weight before it is dried and processed into kibbles.

The Vales based much of their research on work done at the University of British Columbia in the early ’90s. Researchers there created the framework to gauge a person’s ecological footprint. Called a “global hectare,” it measures how much useful land each of us – and now our pets – use to sustain our lifestyles.

According to the Vales’ inputs, your chowhound requires the produce of 0.84 global hectares (gha) to sustain him for one year – either as food or feed for livestock. A larger dog, say, a Labrador, might require as much as 1.1 gha of space.

A Toyota Land Cruiser, by contrast, requires 0.41 gha of biocapacity in year. A North American uses about 9 gha.

By the Vales’ measure, even a good-sized cat requires 0.15 gha, slightly less than the year-long use of a compact Volkswagen.

One of the men who created the ecological footprint concept, Mathis Wackernagel, said Monday that the Vales’ study might be unfairly singling out pet owners.

“If we want to do that, it’s far more significant to measure how many children these people have, rather than pets,” said Wackernagel, executive director of the Oakland-based Global Footprint Network.

But no less controversial.

“Some people have said maybe we should eat academics instead,” Vale said, laughing.

“We’re suggesting that we need to think more carefully about the things we choose to do,” Vale said. “So if you want a big dog, maybe you should be a vegetarian and take the bus.”

Vale proposes people limit themselves to eco-friendly, vegetarian pets, like hamsters or rabbits. Or maybe they can learn to share.

UBC psychologist and canine expert Stanley Coren laughed at the idea of shared pets. He says the physiological and psychological benefits of pet ownership offset any environmental downside.


2 thoughts on “Man’s best friend, mankind’s worst enemy?

  1. The irony of it all is–and this be something i realized a few years ago–how “sustainable” is it even LIVING up where for more than half the year every place humanoids romp, work, eat, sleep and poop, (and procreate) has to be artificially warmed so we don’t freeze to death? Canada people. Just exisiting here is ag…ainst nature, actually. We just don’t admit it publically, nor to ourselves.

    There are SO MANY places on this planet that humanoids can dwell, pretty much naked. For pretty every day of the year.
    So it’s actually disingenuous to even BE a “Canadian Environmentalist” or a “Canadian concerned about unsustainable living”.

    To merely not DIE every year, how much carbon MUST we consume, burn, pollute to artifically warm up a place on earth that is not meant to sustain life? Think about it. It makes me laugh.

  2. Re: the article? I LOVE dogs, I have one (but it moved to Houston a few years ago, so I can only see it now and then) but seriously? Animals should be emancipated from human dictated slavery. All animals. the cute ones and the ugly ones, the big ones and the small ones. Who are we to dictate their happiness. They aren’t here for us! They … See Moreactually were already here, and had their own ‘destinies’.
    A wise friend once questioned my [then] stance of being an ethical vegetarian while owning–“loving”– a domesticated animal. And what he said rang so true to me. Animals ought not be treated like our personal play things. Waiting all day for us to stimulate them, physically, emotionally, etc. That is wrong. And I agree. How arrogant are we as humans?

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