The Carbon Pawprint

While gauging my carbon footprint with an online calculator, I look down at my bluetick coonhound, Elvis, and wonder what his carbon pawprint is. Nearby, his buddy Alice, a black and tan coonhound, snores through it all.

Let’s see: They don’t drive; they’ve never flown on airplanes; their trash consists of the one or two plastic bags I use to pick up their poop every day. They each eat two cups daily of high-quality (a code word for “expensive”) dog food.

I Google “carbon footprint of dogs” and am bombarded with a series of responses to a 7-year-old book that claims one pet dog has the same “ecological footprint” — the amount of land needed to produce the energy consumed — as a large SUV driven 10,000 miles a year. The book was written by two New Zealand professors named Robert and Brenda Vale, and it’s titled: “Time to Eat the Dog?

I look down at Elvis and think: not tasty.

Turns out the book devotes only 28 of its 350 pages to pets. The main argument is that the meat consumed by dogs requires a large amount of land to produce. The rest charts all the other areas of our lives that contribute to our ecological footprints.  Clearly, the dog part is a marketing tool.  And I think it’s a bunch of BS.

Elvis’ and Alice’s food has an average animal protein content of less than 25 percent — depending on what flavor is in stock at my local pet store, that would be salmon, lamb, chicken or beef. But for argument’s sake, and to give the Kiwis a fighting chance, let’s assume my dogs are each eating two cups of raw meat a day, or about one pound each.  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it takes 13.5 kilograms (almost 30 pounds) of carbon to produce and transport one pound of beef. For each dog, that would total 2,168 tons per year. According to the EWG, a large SUV emits about 11,000 tons per year if driven 1,200 miles per month.

That figure does not include the footprint of manufacturing that SUV in the first place, which would make the figure skyrocket. And remember that my dog food calculations are based on a dog eating one pound a day of raw meat. No matter how much my dogs would like to keep a side of beef in the fridge, in truth, their dog food is made of grains, cereals and “tasty” meat byproducts — meaning the parts of the animal, such as sinew, bones, eyeballs and skin — that many people wouldn’t touch. So, in effect, my dogs are piggybacking on other people’s carbon footprints by eating the throwaway meat that’s discarded from the steaks and burgers.

So now Elvis can rest easy, and Alice can continue to snore. I will feed them again in the morning — and not to myself. As they crunch away, I’ll bask in my superior status as a dog lover, knowing that cat litter often is made from strip-mined clay. No joke.

By Stephen P. Williams MBA ’17 is a published author of both fiction and non-fiction.  You may follow his musings @stephenwilliams on Twitter.

This article was originally published on on February 23rd, 2016.

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