A new study from UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability has some bad news for all of us pet owners: our dogs and cats are killing the planet — though, of course, ultimately we humans are to blame, yet again.
In a study published on Wednesday by scientific journal PLOS One, UCLA Geography Professor Gregory Okin presents the grim findings of his research, which concludes that our loveable pets are causing global warming — in fact, a whole bunch of global warming.
"Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but the tradition of pet ownership in the US has considerable costs," writes Okin. "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."
The problem, he explains, is that dogs and cats eat a lot of meat, which, as any good vegetarian knows, destroys the planet, creating the equivalent, UCLA Newsroom explains, of 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year — "about the same climate impact as a year’s worth of driving from 13.6 million cars."
Okin calculates that all told, the food produced for cats and dogs is responsible for about 25-30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the entire country. "If Americans’ 163 million Fidos and Felixes comprised a separate country, their fluffy nation would rank fifth in global meat consumption, Okin calculated, behind only Russia, Brazil, the United States and China," UCLA explains.
But not only is all that meat our beloved pets are eating as bad as over 13 million environment-hating, gas-guzzling cars, their feces is killing Mother Earth, too. Okin calculates that our 163 million dogs and cats produce just over 5 million tons of feces per year, the equivalent of about 90 million Americans, or the trash production of the entire state of Massachusetts.
So what's the solution? I think you know where this is going...
"Reducing the rate of dog and cat ownership, perhaps in favor of other pets that offer similar health and emotional benefits would considerably reduce these impacts," suggests Okin in his study's abstract. "Simultaneous industry-wide efforts to reduce overfeeding, reduce waste, and find alternative sources of protein will also reduce these impacts."
Though Okin makes clear in his study that dog and cat ownership and their meat-based diets are destroying the planet, he says he's still not calling on people to do anything drastic.
"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," he said. "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."