A UCLA professor who recommended replacing dogs and cats with more climate-friendly pets in the name of global warming may have bitten off more than he can chew.
His study, which found that dogs and cats have a significant impact on carbon emissions as a result of their meat-based diets, met with howls from pet owners and a lukewarm reception even from some environmentalists who also happen to love dogs.
Nil Zacharias, the founder of the digital media company One Green Planet, favors a plant-based diet, but as the owner of a 5-year-old Labrador mix named Goji, he said that asking people to give up their pets is unrealistic as well as problematic for the millions of shelter animals waiting for homes.
“You’re not going to see that happen,” Mr. Zacharias said. “I think dogs and cats, at least as long as they exist, are going to play an important role in our society and culturally, so I think telling people not to adopt cats and dogs would be irresponsible.”
In his paper published last week, UCLA professor Gregory S. Okin found that meat-eating dogs and cats create the equivalent of 64 million tons of carbon dioxide per year based on the energy consumption required to produce their food, or the same impact as driving 13.6 million cars.
“I like dogs and cats, and I’m definitely not recommending that people get rid of their pets or put them on a vegetarian diet, which would be unhealthy,” Mr. Okin said in a statement. “But I do think we should consider all the impacts that pets have so we can have an honest conversation about them. Pets have many benefits but also a huge environmental impact.”
The study comes with livestock, notably cows, already targeted by the environmental movement for their prodigious methane production, prompting calls for people to reduce their beef consumption in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
While Americans have long been known as the world’s biggest pet lovers, other countries are following suit as they become more affluent.
“Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but the tradition of pet ownership in the U.S. has considerable costs,” Mr. Okin said in his Aug. 2 paper, published in PLOS One. “As pet ownership increases in some developing countries, especially China, and trends continue in pet food toward higher content and quality of meat, globally, pet ownership will compound the environmental impacts of human dietary choices.”
What’s the answer? Mr. Okin suggested making the transition from dogs and cats to smaller animals including hamsters, reptiles and birds, or herbivores such as horses.
A July 12 study by researchers with Lund University in Sweden said the most dramatic way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to have fewer children, while the San Francisco progressive group Having Kids recently called on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to forgo a third child.
Challenging those recommendations was biochemist Leslie Eastman, who noted that predictions during the 1960s and 1970s of mass starvation from what biologist Paul Ehrlich described as the “population bomb” failed to pan out.
Today’s climate change alarmists are just as wrong, Ms. Eastman said on Legal Insurrection. “So enjoy your pets, because UCLA researchers are barking up the wrong tree.”
The study linked emissions to meat production, which “has considerably greater impacts on water use, fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions, fertilizer use and pesticide use.”
Mr. Zacharias said it’s possible to mitigate the impact of meat-eating pets by giving dogs plant-based treats, such as sweet potatoes, which he does with his dog and “she loves it.”
At the same time, he said, “you have to be responsible when it comes to feeding your dog or cat.”
“Dogs are omnivores. Technically, they can survive without meat,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily do that, and I don’t do that. Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores. They can’t survive without meat. They will get sick and die.”
He said pet owners can balance out the impact on the environment by eating less meat themselves.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying no because you’ve got to think about the impact of that advice, which is, what happens to the millions of homeless pets in shelters?” Mr. Zacharias said. “At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice people should make, just like when it comes to your food.”