October 27, 2009
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.