Matt Smith's End of the Spectrum

Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.

Pooch pie on the menu if we don't cut ecological pawprint

First published in The Age on 25th November, 2010

Family pets are a big contributor to Australia’s greedy use of resources.

One of the most effective ways to save the world could be to eat your dog. When Robert and Brenda Vale of Wellington’s Victoria University suggested such a measure in their book Time to Eat the Dog? they did so to illustrate the drastic sort of action we would need to take to reverse the global problems we are facing.

They were wildly criticised for this idea but maybe the time has come to take them seriously. You might look at Rover and think to yourself that you could never bear to throw him on the barbecue, but if you did, you’d be doing the planet a favour.

As a First World country, Australia enjoys many privileges. We have running water and electricity, public transport that we can complain about, international travel, consumable items. All of these come at a price, and WWF’s recently released 2010 Living Planet Report paints a depressing picture.

The world is now using 50 per cent more natural resources than it can sustain.

The report ranks the world’s countries by the size of their ecological footprint, and Australia has the eighth biggest. Although our ranking has dropped, it is still nothing to be proud of – an ecological footprint is how many global hectares worth of resources are consumed per person. We use 6.83 hectares per Australian.

While we may faithfully recycle, the Australian way of life is going to do little when it comes to reducing our footprint, unless we’re willing to take drastic measures to change.

The biggest chunk of our footprint problem stems from carbon usage, but quite a lot (26 per cent) is a direct result of grazing. Included in this is meat, dairy and wool, which make up a large part of our exports. We rank third in the world for grazing users, behind Mongolia and Uruguay, neither of which come close to having the carbon problem that we have.

If the entire country went vegetarian, it would in all likelihood have a noticeable effect on our ecological footprint. At the present rate, though, it’s going to come down to sacrifices – and your weekly recycling isn’t going to cut it.

Serving up Fido as an entree might be a bit extreme, but one of the most effective ways you can make an impact on your ecological footprint is by not owning a dog. It’s not that it never turns the lights off, or leaves the television on all night – its sole crime is the amount it eats in its lifetime (about 164 kilograms of meat and 96 kilograms of cereal a year for a medium-sized dog).

When it comes to an ecological footprint, a dog is the equivalent of two Toyota LandCruisers, and this includes both the manufacture and use of the car.

Consider this: in 2005, there were 2.8 million Australian households with dogs (and many, I’m sure, with more than one). That’s an uncomfortable number of LandCruisers polluting the world.

Dogs can’t exactly take all the blame – a cat is the equivalent of a Volkswagen Golf. Two guinea pigs, funnily enough, have the same energy footprint as a plasma television.

I’m not for a moment advocating that we should be turning to a dog diet (although, considering we eat cow, pig, sheep, kangaroo, crocodile and emu, it shouldn’t be too big a stretch), but maybe we need to stop looking at people who trundle around in four-wheel-drives in the city as the sole cause of our environmental problems.

When it comes down to it (and ”it” has very much indeed come down to ”it”), how much is each of us responsible in our own way? The fact that a family pet is such a way of life in the Australian culture is damage enough. Even if we widened our palate to include dogs, that wouldn’t stop people owning pets. And those pets are still going to eat meat.

Maybe an option such as mandatory desexing with pet sales or a rebate scheme with desexing can make a dent, or at least raise awareness. What would be most effective is for people to think hard before buying a pet. It might be better to grow some plants instead.

After all, at least plants are edible.

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2 comments on “Pooch pie on the menu if we don't cut ecological pawprint

  1. PatrickL
    January 18, 2011

    Interesting discussion, however I think it kind of misses the point a little. Reducing our carbon footprint is directly linked to how much fossil fuel that we burn. Before sacrifice fido it might be a good idea for us to control things like our personal energy usage and how much we drive the car. Changing our habits is the only way to make sure that we can continue on this planet beyond the next gen.

  2. Kim
    April 29, 2011

    Yes, but – we don’t realize how much fuel goes into growing the crops and raising the chickens (and so forth) for all the dog food for our dogs. It’s a massive amount.

    Matt – Do you have a link to the study that shows which animals are equal to what… and how much of a carbon footprint each has? (I only heard about it on QI and I can’t recall who did the research.) 8) Thanks muchly.

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This entry was posted on January 17, 2011 by in environment, lifestyle and tagged , , , , .
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