People who care about the environment are often people who also care about animals—the kind of folks who take in stray cats and adopt shelter dogs, driving them home in a Prius. But over the past month, the tide of green opinions seems to have turned against those sweet-faced puppies and kittens, which some environmentalists view as a waste of precious resources. Instead of having a pet, you may as well get an SUV.
Much of the impetus for this anti-pet sentiment comes from Robert and Brenda Vale, scientists and authors of “Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living.” In it, the Vales argue that cats and dogs consume resources, devastate wildlife populations, and contribute to pollution and the spread of disease. Thanks to their calculations, we get this graphic from New Scientist, which displays the footprints (pawprints?) of hamsters, cats, large and medium-sized dogs, a Toyota Land Cruiser, and a Volkswagen Golf. As you can imagine, you're better off seeking companionship with rodents, based on the amount of resources they consume. Cats are second best, but owning either of the vehicles is better than having a dog—mostly for the amount of meat they consume. Also unnerving is this chart from Wired, which displays the amount of land required to produce food for all of the pets in America, versus land needed for enough solar panels to power the whole country. Turns out, feeding Fido takes up 17 times more land than meeting our entire electricity demand.
Since much of the footprint for our pets comes from the beef we produce to feed them, one way to cut a pet's carbon footprint is to feed it a vegetarian diet—a hot controversy among vegan and vegetarian pet owners. Veterinarians and the FDA discourage feeding cats and dogs a solely vegetarian diet—especially cats, which are true carnivores, and cannot digest many of the nutrients in vegetables. Some vegetarian dog owners feed their pets a grain-based diet and nutritional supplements. Others reduce food waste by always feeding pets their leftovers. Always consult your veterinarian about changes to your pet's diet.
Taking the topic of food into much darker territory is the author of another recent environmental book, author Jonathan Safran Foer. In his first non-fiction title, "Eating Animals," Foer takes a look at harm caused by our country's factory farming system, as well as sharing personal anecdotes about his longtime vegetarianism. But in the Wall Street Journal, Foer unleashed a Swiftian challenge with his own "Modest Proposal": we should eat dogs. Other countries do it, he argued, and the euthanization of shelter pets nationwide would alleviate hunger. Unsurprisingly, it is a stomach-turning article. Foer doesn't want us to eat dogs, of course—he just wants us to stop eating other animals, too. The Vales, on the other hand, believe that pets should be "recycled" for food, and that if the thought of that is too unbearable for owners, they should go without animal companionship.
All of this falls under a category of environmentalism I've addressed before—the fun-killing sort that, while accurate, is not likely to win converts or fans. Sure, we can go without pets. We can also go without dating and children. But how useful is an environmental movement that alienates the general population, especially animal lovers?