Are dogs the real population problem on climate change?

December 23, 2009 19 By admin

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.