This research was a departure for Okin, who typically travels the globe to study deserts — things such as wind erosion, dust production and plant-soil interactions. But he said the backyard chicken trend in Los Angeles got him thinking about “how cool it is” that pet chickens make protein, while dogs and cats eat protein. And he discovered that even as interest grows in the environmental impact of our own meat consumption, there has been almost no effort to quantify the part our most common pets play.
“If you are worried about the environment, then in the same way you might consider what kind of car you buy … this is something that might be on your radar,” Okin said in an interview. “But it’s not necessarily something you want to feel terrible about. ”
Needless to say, producing that meat — which requires more land, water and energy and pollutes more than plant-based food — creates a lot of greenhouse gases: as many as 64 million tons annually, or about the equivalent of driving more than 12 million cars around for a year. That doesn’t mean pet-keeping must be eschewed for the sake of the planet, but “neither is it an unalloyed good,” Okin wrote in a study published this week in PLOS One.
Okin, a geographer at UCLA, recently did that, and the numbers he crunched led to some astonishing conclusions. America’s 180 million or so Rovers and Fluffies gulp down about 25 percent of all the animal-derived calories consumed in the United States each year, according to Okin’s calculations. If these pets established a sovereign nation, it would rank fifth in global meat consumption.
Gregory Okin is quick to point out that he does not hate dogs and cats. Although he shares his home with neither — he is allergic, so his pets are fish — he thinks it is fine if you do. But if you do, he would like you to consider what their meat-heavy kibble and canned food are doing to the planet.