Professor Okin maintains that he is a dog lover but he understands, probably more than most through his research, how a pooch can affect the environment around us. People-wise, going from a meat-eater to a vegetarian can reduce our carbon footprint but can we ask this of our best friend, the dog, too? China and Brazil, as their population(s) become more affluent, are eating more meat as well — and they're getting more pets… This is quite the conundrum!
In a paper publishing Aug. 2 in the journal PLOS One, Okin says he found that cats and dogs are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. 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. And it all has to go somewhere — America's pets produce about 5.1 million tons of feces in a year, as much as 90 million Americans. If all that were thrown in the trash, it would rival the total trash production of Massachusetts — from the humans, at least.
Compared to a plant-based diet, meat requires more energy, land and water to produce, and has greater environmental consequences in terms of erosion, pesticides and waste, Okin noted. Previous studies have found that the American diet produces the equivalent of 260 million tons of carbon dioxide from livestock production. By calculating and comparing how much meat 163 million cats and dogs eat compared to 321 million Americans, Okin determined how many tons of greenhouse gases are tied to pet food.
In the end, it comes down to various choices and we think we are willing to have a veggie plate Sunday if Fido can have his meat dish. Perhaps when it all plays out, environmentalists and scientists will work together to make a good planet into a better planet and all of us can eat their protein in whatever form we like. Living together contentedly, and knowing our limitation, will no doubt have the biggest impact on our environment.