Copenhagen: where do we go from here?

December 23, 2009

Using mobile phones to combat medicine shortages in Africa

December 23, 2009

Are dogs the real population problem on climate change?

December 23, 2009
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After Copenhagen, allow me some bleak Christmas humour. If you’re a dog lover, look away now. But before you reach for the green ink, remember this is an attempt at satire.

I got some fairly aggressive responses to my recent posts on population, and one of the core arguments of the population controllers seemed to be that because climate change and women’s rights over their fertility (see previous blog for why I reject the term ‘population control’) are both important, there is no harm in linking them. On that argument, since education, land tenure, arms control, housing, domestic violence etc etc etc are all important aspects of development, they too should be on the table in Copenhagen. Clearly nonsense.

But while we’re on the subject of carbon emitting populations, let’s talk about dogs. Britain is, famously, a nation of dog lovers. Actually it’s bitterly divided between cat people and dog people. We Brits own eight million cats, eight million dogs and very few of us own one of each (not least because they don’t get on).

For the record, I am a cat person. I once ate a dog (or part of one) in a backstreet Korean

time to chose?

time to chose?

restaurant and it was delicious. Not a qualm. Anyway, back to dogs and climate change. The BBC’s ‘Ethical Man’ (probably another cat lover) has done the numbers. Keeping a medium-sized dog has the same ecological impact as driving a 4.6 litre Land Cruiser (I assume that’s some kind of car) 10,000km a year.

Using a unit known as a ‘global hectare’ – a measure of the land area needed to support a certain ecological footprint, 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 carbon pawprint is more like 1.1 gha. 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 are responsible for more carbon emissions than some British citizens.

By contrast a cat (hah!) needs 0.15 gha, a hamster 0.014 gha, and a canary 0.007 gha. The most carbon efficient pet is a goldfish. Its carbon finprint requires just 0.00034 gha. That’s over 3,000 fish per pooch.

It's the dog's fault

It's the dog's fault

So if you care about climate change, join my new campaign. Our key demand is a ‘fish for fidos’ scheme, loosely based on Cash for Clunkers, whereby people trade in their dogs in return for goldfish. It makes at least as much sense to promote this as a solution to climate change as human population control in poor countries. Any takers, pop controllers?

And with that, you’ll be relieved to hear, I’m signing off and taking a break. Whether you celebrate Christmas, just lie around and eat and drink too much, or carry on as usual, enjoy the next two weeks and see (or at least talk at) you in 2010.


  1. Superb blog, Duncan. It didn’t ‘arf make me laugh. And I always knew my family was on the right track with that fish pond…

  2. In your dogged pursuit of the population controllers, I think you’re being catty….and no doubt they will find something fishy in your arguments.


  3. For those who don’t have their “head under water” on the inextricable link between human population and environmental impact, please join the Global Population Speak Out of 2010.


  4. this climate change thing is getting out of hand. blaming your pet dog on climate change is like blaming mcdonalds for obesity.

    yes i know this is an attempt at satire. a very bad one.


  5. @Olivia Ball

    Anyone who converts a carnivorous animal to a vegetarian diet should be charged with animal cruelty.

    Without forced vitamin intake and disturbing diet control, a vegetarian cat or dog truly lives a cursed life.

    Take care of your animals properly or find them a good home. Don’t torture them by forcing them into disturbing human trends.

  6. “Take care of your animals properly or find them a good home. Don’t torture them by forcing them into disturbing human trends.”

    Oh you mean like castrating them?

  7. I like the research that shows that the more neurotic you are the more likely you are to own a pet, so clearly the solution to climate change is more psychotherapy…

  8. Sorry, but I think you’ve committed the fallacy of forgotten tradeoffs. Pets, especially dogs, have increasingly become replacements for children, making childlessness more bearable. From an ecological point of view more pets/fewer people is a winner…

  9. The most environmentally beneficial solution would be to eat them of course, rather than trading them for a goldfish…..

  10. Yes, I agree with Vet Tech, it’s a modest proposal. But the point is a good one. We need to be aware of the carbon paw-prints our pets leave on this earth. There are some mindful ways we can reduce those pawprints significantly – I would encourage all readers to think about how they can help their pets go “green”.

  11. I don’t think dogs have any thing to do with that, I mean every living organism has done its part but the major piece of fault is ours

    Duncan: it’s a spoof Ken, like Jonathan Swift suggesting eating babies……

  12. How did you know the food you ate in Korea was made from a dog? Did the menu say it was? Did it taste like chicken??

    Duncan: It was a dog restaurant, that was all that was on the menu. And it was much nicer than chicken.

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