Dogs vs. SUVs vs. the earth, debunked

Rumors of the canine carbon footprint appear to be greatly exaggerated

Published November 6, 2009 11:45PM (EST)

Because I know Salon readers are still having sleepless nights wondering whether owning a Labrador Retriever does as much damage to the earth as owning an SUV, I thought I would pass on this entertaining debunking of the numbers involved, put together by Clark Williams-Derry at Sightline Daily.

Derry concludes that the authors of "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living" underestimate the carbon footprint of SUVs and way overestimate the carbon footprint of dog food. His bottom line, "the anti-doggites are off by a factor of at least 18, and probably more."

Derry's make a convincing case all along the numbers-chain, especially when it comes to breaking down the dog food issue.

The anti-doggists estimate it takes .84 hectares -- or about 2.1 acres of cropland -- to meet a a pooch's food needs for a year. There are a little over 70 million dogs in the U.S. (the Humane Society says 74.8 million, the veterinarians say 72.1 million, and the pet food industry says 66.3 million, for an average of 71.1 dogs). So by the authors' estimates it must take about 150 million acres of U.S. farmland to feed our dogs. In all, there are 440 million acres of cropland in the US -- suggesting that the equivalent of one-third of all U.S. cropland is devoted to producing dog food.

Williams-Derry argues that the notion that 1/3 of all U.S. cropland goes to dog food is ridiculous, particularly when you look at how big a part dog food plays in the overall food economy.

Total retail food sales in the U.S. topped $1.1 trillion in the US in 2008 (see table 36 from the USDA's Agricultural Outlook statistics.) But according to the pet food industry, retail dog food sales totaled just $11 billion in 2008. By that measure, dog food represents about one percent of the total food economy.

There's more at the source, if you still need convincing.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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