Do Dogs Leave A Larger Footprint Than SUVs?

November 6, 2009

Are dogs worse for the environment than SUVs?

You'll find a number of sources trumpeting the widely publicized results from New Zealand researchers, concluding that yes, dogs are worse for the planet than SUVs. But don't kick out the hound quite yet and head for the Hummer dealership; according to the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, the research is very flawed in many respects.

Robert and Brenda Vale, of Victoria University in Wellington, have claimed that a mid-size dog has a larger eco-footprint than a large luxury SUV (in their calculations, a Toyota Land Cruiser V-8).

They argue that a medium-size dog consumes 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily, resulting in a footprint of 0.84 hectares, while a Toyota Land Cruiser uses 55.1 gigajoules yearly, equating to a footprint of about 0.41 hectares.

However, they make some questionable assumptions—first off ignoring that dog food is mostly byproducts that might not otherwise be used in the human food chain; then by assuming that the vehicle will only be driven 10,000 km (about 6,200 miles) annually. According to the Department of Energy, the true U.S. average is more than twice that, at 13,700 miles. Sightline also points to a number of ways in which the energy the SUV uses—supposedly including the cost of manufacture—was severely underestimated, with the true figure about three times what they give, before including indirect impact like roads, bridges, and fuel infrastructure.

New Scientist also points to the icky issue of pet feces, which causes elevated bacteria levels in rivers and streams. But there was another environmental aspect not included on the SUV side of the researchers' calculation: tailpipe emissions.

2010 Honda Dog Friendly Element

2010 Honda Dog Friendly Element

Enlarge Photo

So are our precious pooches only speeding up climate change and planetary doom? Can you feel better about the guzzler in the driveway because you don't have a dog? As usual, moderation is probably the better answer instead of these silly one-versus-the-other calculations. Just as car-sharing is a viable solution for some drivers, New Scientist suggests pet-sharing as one way to enjoy companionship while reducing your footprint.

And if you're already a dog owner, you might want to check out the Dog Friendly package offered on the quite fuel-efficient 2010 Honda Element…

[New Scientist; Sightline Institute]

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