Will my faithful friend be my eco-undoing?

18 12 2009

A couple of months ago, for the3rdi magazine, I wrote a piece about my carbon footprint. While I was surprised that it was as high as it was, I was pleased to see that it was at least below the UK average.

And I have been thinking again about how eco-friendly I really am as Mike Small from the fabulous Fife Diet project has agreed to write a piece for the magazine each month. I’m a vegetarian, control my dairy consumption, try to consider the air miles of the food I eat and try to shop locally. On the whole I think I do OK.

But one thing has been bugging me for a while.  I own a dog. A fit young Labrador, Lola,  with a voracious appetite.

I take considerably less care in choosing her food. She’ll eat anything and so I buy whatever is the cheapest, dried food from the local petshop.  As I said, this has niggled at me for a while but there seemed no easy way to measure her ecological footprint.  Then I read this in The New Scientist;

“A medium-size dog’s ecological footprint – the area of land required to keep it fed – is 0.84 hectares annually. You could run two SUVs on that and still have change. Even a toy dog such as a chihuahua has a footprint of 0.28 hectares per year.”

And it gets worse.

I feed the birds.  Leaving aside the air-miles in shipping red-skinned peanuts to the UK til another day, I do this to protect their numbers through the harsh Scottish winter. And because I like birds! I bang on the window to shoo away cats.

According to the New Scientist, ” in the UK alone they kill more than 188 million wild animals each year. But dogs are no bunny huggers. They have been implicated in the decline of the rare European nightjar, they disturb ground-nesting birds and, even when walked on a lead, their mere presence may reduce biodiversity.”

On looking into this further I came across this book, whose name alone gives a fair indication that I am right to be uncomfortable as a pet owner.  Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living, is written by  Robert and Brenda Vale from New Zealand, who specialise in sustainable living. In the book they compare the ecological footprints of  pets with the impact of various other lifestyle choices.

They calculated that a medium-sized dog would consume 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food.  At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450 grams of fresh meat and 260 grams of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, a medium sized dog, like Lola, consumes around 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals.

It takes 43.3 square metres of land to generate 1 kilogram of chicken per year – far more for beef and lamb – and 13.4 square metres to generate a kilogram of cereals. So that gives my dog a footprint of 0.84 hectares, as reported in the New Scientist article.

On the other hand an SUV – the Vales used a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser in their comparison – driven just 10,000 kilometres a year, uses 55.1 gigajoules, which includes the energy required both to fuel and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser’s eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares – less than half that of a medium-sized dog.

So there we have it. It would seem however careful I am with my own consumption the fact that I keep a dog will undo all of my good work!



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