Pro­fes­sor: Warm and fuzzy pets are heat­ing up cli­mate

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

A UCLA pro­fes­sor who rec­om­mended re­plac­ing dogs and cats with more cli­mate­friendly 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-yearold 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.”

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