On Monday the 8th of October 2018 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report: we have roughly a single decade to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half or face unprecedented global catastrophe.
The report, however, does not paint the full picture; as several scientists have pointed out, it largely leaves out the “tipping points“, self-reinforcing feedbacks that can lead to runaway Hothouse Earth, in other words, irreversible Global Warming calamity beyond our control.
To fully grasp the magnitude of the threat to life as we know it, please take the time to read the effects of Global Warming outlined in this article which appeared on the 10th of July 2017 in the New York Magazine, entitled Uninhabitable Earth:
absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.
The Meat & Dairy Industry is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas – the other being fossil fuels.
Which brings me to the point of this post, in a blog about dogs: the carbon footprint of pets – and specifically, dog-keeping and dog-breeding.
Dogs and cats are responsible for a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions caused by animal agriculture & livestock. The global dog and cat population is enormous – there are no accurate numbers but estimates range from 900 million to two billion. Commercial dog food brands contain primarily factory-farmed meat. On top of that, we have the added emissions from the activities related to the pet industry (energy, transportation, deforestation etc). Cattle are the biggest source of greenhouse gases worldwide.
Dog keepers and more specifically dog breeders must seriously and honestly evaluate the effects of their hobby on Climate. Switching to sustainable meat sources for dog and cat diets instead of the commercial, highly processed products that are marketed by the Meat and Dairy industry is imperative, as the carbon footprint of livestock is staggering. (Raw diets, if environmentally friendly, organic, sustainable and locally sourced – wild game for example – would not only be healthier for dogs and cats but also much lower in carbon footprint. Of course, they are more expensive: Climate Change is, and will become more and more costly if we fail to halt the rate of emissions – but we do have choices to make).
National and local governments must now immediately move to ban the mass-producing puppy mills outright. We should point out to politicians that, if they want to get serious about the Climate, livestock population is a priority and puppy mills should be a number one target: they are bad for the environment, they are bad for dogs, they are bad for puppy buyers, they are bad for the Planet, they should not exist (they should have been dealt with long ago); now that we know exactly how little time we have left to tackle Global Warming, they should not be spared. They are an anachronism, cruel and unsustainable: shut them down.
If puppy farmers are just taxed to the hilt with carbon taxes they will simply pass on the cost to the buyers or come up with new “exotic” & “designer” or “extreme” breeds to justify higher prices and stay in business. The Dog Fancy itself surely ought to realize as a matter of utmost urgency that they/we – Kennel Clubs, the FCI, AKC, TKC, fancier themselves and their second level organizations, breed and all-breed societies – all have a very important role to play in the management of the number of dogs being kept and the frequency they are being bred at. No more laissez-faire / I don’t care attitude towards overbreeding: these institutions are governing bodies, they should, therefore, be held up to the same standards as political governments and other institutions. Governments and registering bodies need to step up and limit the amount of litters/puppies each dog can produce; they should not be allowed to continue facilitating, encouraging and profiting from overbreeding. If these bodies do not show leadership and responsibility in reducing the overpopulation of dogs, carbon taxes will hit the hobby breeder – and that is neither fair nor acceptable or effective against the goal to curtail emissions.
The most popular breeds are a subject (an unregulated field open to abuse, would be a more accurate description) of economic exploitation from mass producers – and those breeds are squeezing smaller, valuable populations out of existence. This can’t be allowed to continue; the problem should be looked at holistically and rationally with an effective management plan to restore balance. Overpopulated breeds are artificially promoted and hyped and commercially over-advertised, indiscriminately over-bred, over-represented by the media and the celebrity worship culture; as a result, they are a “trend”, driving numerically smaller breeds to extinction – damaging genetic diversity in dogs and biodiversity in general. Working dogs, primitive dogs and landraces, with valuable genetic diversity, great usefulness, and precious roles to play in a more sustainable model for the ecosystem, should be high in priority for preservation in their natural environments, contributing to the conservation of wildlife and habitats.
Humanity is facing an extremely tough uphill struggle to even have a fighting chance of buying some time, during the next decade, to just give scientists, and our children’s generation, some reasonable hope: that they can come up with viable solutions before the situation becomes irreversible. People and animals are already dying from the effects of climate change: floods, drought, fires, hunger, disease, conflict, war. Millions more will die & billions will be displaced unless decisive action is taken. Are we going to witness once again the absurdity of affluent western excess, hysteria and hypocrisy, spending billions on pampered pets and stepping up to save threatened puppies from the stricken “third world” regions, while people, babies, mothers, children, hope itself, are left to die? Are we going to continue allowing our governments to spend trillions on warfare, while leaving conservation, health and humanitarian aid to charity?
Global Warming is the most devastating threat to not just our species, but the entire biosphere, in human history. Science is not optimistic: the odds of meeting even the Paris Agreement targets (which have already been rendered obsolete by the new IPCC report) are not looking good. And they are not any better since the USA withdrew from the Paris Accord and Brazil just elected a President who has pledged to open the Amazon rainforest for commercial exploitation (farming, logging and business “development”), just as we most need massive reforestation.
We are at War. It’s an invisible one, or at least not as visible at it should be, because it has a political cost and requires both cultural and material sacrifices; but no War we ever fought had been more threatening or more deadly in consequence. We will need an effort of unprecedented scale, involving every Earth citizen, to secure a future for our loved ones and the living world at large. Logic dictates that, under the circumstances, we must review our behavior, our culture, our habits, our real needs, and the luxuries that we must now put aside.
We are facing our own extinction, on top of the mass wildlife extinction we have already caused – most wild species on the planet are now critically endangered. We must limit the number of companion pets we keep and breed to a bare minimum – and even those need to be managed in ways that are sustainable and not contributing to pollution and climate deterioration. Excess in all areas of human activity is the root of the problem and it is that tendency for excess that needs to be checked, put under control and stopped, balance restored.
When extreme weather forces mass waves of refugees to flee inhospitable areas attempting to reach safety, humanitarian aid would have to be prepared to deal with levels of homelessness never encountered before. Already we are seeing hostility, suspicion, prejudice, denigration and even open hatred stoked for political gain against people stricken by poverty, war and adverse climate. Where can these people find shelter if the richest countries in the world and people more fortunate than themselves do not welcome them and are not prepared to help them? Are we going to see a repeat of genocidal cruelty like the Irish Famine, played out on a global scale, are the haves going to be allowed to continue the extermination of the have-nots that they themselves were instrumental in displacing from their homes, while still proclaiming their own righteousness and human values?
Under this light, looking at the bigger picture and considering the unfathomable consequences that our collective choices, actions, and inactions are unleashing upon fellow humans and animals alike, I can no longer condone or support the lifestyle choice of keeping large, excessive numbers of pets at the expense of everything and everyone else. I can no longer, in good conscience, participate in the “dog fancy”, if so-called “fancy” does not step up to clean up its own act; we have to replace fanciful with factual and selfish indulgent with intelligent, caring and responsible: priorities drastically, realistically, rapidly change by necessity.
We need to carefully monitor the population of dogs and cats and breed only in numbers necessary for the survival of these species – not for our own “fancy” and vanity. Things have changed – and changed utterly. Can we grasp reality and step up to the task?
Dog showing and traveling, airline shipping back and forth for no good reason, producing litters of puppies just to “have something to show”, justifying the practice as a pleasant social hobby and pastime, is not what human populations at such dire state of War, poverty, hunger, imminent death and planetary destruction can afford to engage in. It would be akin to the Titanic heading on a collision course with the first class passengers dancing on the upper decks and the captain asleep at the wheel. We must abandon the frivolous and adapt to living realistically, frugally, limiting ourselves to what’s important – the bare necessities, with minimum waste. Preserving resources, helping each other, valuing what’s most precious: Life.
At wartime, resources are managed through rationing. Climate change will bring about food and clean water shortages, crop failures, fires and land loss. Strife, despair, racial prejudice, and hatred will bring about conflicts. How are we preparing for these events? And, most importantly, how are we going to reverse and repair the damages, if we don’t radically change the behaviors that caused them in the first place?
Human population has skyrocketed because technological and medical advances have progressed faster than collective consciousness, rational governance, social justice and a holistic sense of responsibility towards each other and our biosphere. Patriarchal religions continue brainwashing, indoctrinating and perpetuating unfair, oppressive societal norms all around the world; as a result, women are still not in control of their own bodies and reproductive rights.
We have severed our ties with Nature to the extent that human civilization has turned against it; in the Anthropocene Epoch, we have unleashed dormant mechanisms and weather phenomena that are beyond our ability to influence – we simply have very little previous experience of what happens at that level of distorting and disrupting natural balance. The climate is a Superpower that the Superorganism (Homni) have yet to fully understand, respect, care for, let alone efficiently attempt to positively manage. These are the opposing forces in this War – Frankenstein and his monster.
Greed, corruption, denial, are consuming the planetary resources like mindless cancer kills its host. Eventually, if we had time, after countless generations, education (if not solely reserved for the Elite ruling class, by some totalitarian dystopian regimes), might sufficiently elevate humanity to an evolved state of mind, restoring harmony of interaction between ourselves and the physical environment: returning to a state of peace where humans are part of, instead of the arch-enemy and nemesis of nature.
Pondering the Big Questions, science and philosophy have wondered if Intelligent Life might actually be extremely rare in the Universe, with some theorizing that it might only exist, or may have managed to survive to this stage, solely here on Earth. The Great Filter, the idea that civilizations destroy themselves and go extinct before achieving intergalactic travel, is a somber hypothesis attempting to answer why we haven’t yet made contact with other sentient beings in the Cosmos. Life and biodiversity are infinitely complex, vulnerable, nothing short of miraculous; being alive and capable of rational thought (of sorts…) is an extraordinary good fortune that makes humanity custodians of the planet and everything on it for future generations. Fail at our, and everyone else’s, peril.
In Russia, rising temperatures are causing ice to melt, forcing polar bears to roam further in their search for food, getting close to human settlements and facing conflict with dogs © Vladimir Melnik (source)
Yet time is a luxury we no longer have. We have squandered decade after decade since first warnings were issued; science had been scoffed at and voices of reason met by mistrust and attempts to discredit and ridicule; corporate minions conspired to distort facts and figures, lie, conceal, deflect; they attacked sanity and caution, branded those who attempted to tell the truth “Prophets of Doom”, spoke and continue to scream against the evidence, accuse realists of “scaremongering”; they tried to silence everyone whom they perceived as a challenge to the status quo; ecology was laughed at as “tree-hugging” and early concerns ignored, the public manipulated to look away, continue napping and stay complacent. Now even some among the 1% realize that Global Warming might actually be bad for business…but at this point, the future looks bleak: either inaction and indifference driving Earth beyond the brink of runaway warming, or brute force and ignorance bringing forth nuclear annihilation. As of this year, 2018, the Doomsday Clock is at two minutes to midnight.
Recently we lost the towering intellect, all-encompassing thought and wisdom of Professor Stephen Hawking, our generation’s Einstein – a genius with his head in the stars and his heart focused on humanity and preserving Life itself. He warned that Climate Change was the greatest challenge of our times. We have many great scientists, philosophers, and thinkers but nobody yet that seems likely to take his place as a guardian and guide for humankind in this monumental occasion. Our political leaders are intellectual, ethical, humanitarian dwarves or amoebas by comparison. We must respond to the call from the ground up, we need grassroots movements. Each and every one of us must now become a leader.
Just as in the poorest countries children are dying at a horrific rate from hunger and disease while in the “first world” problems are reversed (obesity and the obsession of religious evangelical fundamentalists with the “rights of the unborn”, cynically ignoring the needs of the born), our relationship with “man’s best friend” is reflecting the same tragic imbalance: millions of dogs mass-produced to cater for our penchant for cute, neotenic, surrogate babies, while the surplus rejects are destined for the gas chambers. What a terrible, tragic waste of life and resources…
We have not yet managed to achieve harmony between consumption and resources, or supply and demand, in our supposedly “free” markets. Capitalism and consumerism unchecked and unregulated become out of control rogue monsters; predictably so, as by its very nature, the goal of capitalism is to maximize profit and minimize cost. Profit making is by definition a self-rewarding, self-reinforcing behavior. Without safety valves in place, it becomes a menace.
Just four years ago, a scientific study showed the two main reasons for civilization collapse: overconsumption of natural resources and wealth inequality.
We have since the most dire confirmation: Earth’s ecology has been so severely disrupted by human activity that we are teetering on the brink of irreversible collapse. If we don’t curtail our damaging behavior and repair the climate our descendants will inherit a living hell, a dystopia of our own making.
To have any realistic hopes of reversing the political corruption, corporate greed and personal lifestyle choices that are driving Global Warming we need a massive, worldwide advertising & consumers campaign – focused against meat consumption, primarily, as it is the contributor which, if tackled effectively, could halve the livestock footprint in a very short amount of time. People can adjust their diets overnight – fossil fuels will take longer to phase out. We need to tax & label red meat and dairy just like we tax & label tobacco products – and they can be rationed, just like fossil fuels and everything else that pollutes.
We need a deep, vast transformation of attitude and culture. We are a social species – we need to think like one. We need to behave like an interconnected family instead of slaves to a heartless, mindless corporate machine that is turning people against each other, dividing to conquer. We need to prioritize the greater good above self-interest, above our selfish, petty and petulant, immature and greedy, fanciful material “me-me-me” tantrums and grievances. We need to act, lobby and demand policies, initiatives and legislation. We need to vote, resist, protect, preserve; we simply must replace antiintellectualism, hostility towards science and facts, climate change denial, criminal neglect and indifference, with sanity, teamwork and effectiveness.
We also need to regulate and use advertising in reducing emissions over a host of other industries; regulations on advertising itself would have a massive impact on how people view, accept and normalize actions and behaviors that are major contributors to Global Warming. We banned the advertising of smoking & tobacco products. We need to do the same with companies, products and practices that are not on course to meet emission targets. We need to change what we view as acceptable behavior when in fact it is deadly and catastrophic. We need to promote, adopt and reward sustainable, reject the politics of Death and Destruction. Carbon taxes and labeling are imperative – and they need to be enforced and policed; every newspaper, tv & radio, every social network, websites, blogs, should be raising awareness about the number one global threat. It’s a Real Danger – we have to wake up, get off our collective bottoms, treat it like it is.
Facts must be driven home and drilled into every functioning conscience in human society. And that includes how we keep pets and how we breed dogs.
Our right to keep and reproduce pets must be responsibly and rationally measured against the very real demands of preserving the entire ecosystem and our children’s right to live in a functioning biosphere on a habitable planet.
Global Warming is the ultimate Emergency. We can’t afford to view it as if we had a choice to ignore it – we don’t: it would be insane, genocidal, suicidal and too monstrous to contemplate…
Do we really need to keep a dozen -or more- big dogs as pets? Can we really justify breeding two litters per year out of every bitch? Are our clubs and registries in touch with reality? Do our governments realize they need to ban the commercial breeding establishments that are licensed to keep and exploit many hundreds of breeding bitches each? What are we doing about it? Every bit helps towards the greater good. Hiding head in the sand doesn’t.
For me personally, the need to prioritize rationally and responsibly simply means that dreams of adopting another pet will have to be put on hold, for now, or even indefinitely. I do everything I can and have pledged to do more: in recycling, repairing, reusing, limiting meat & dairy products, transportation and energy consumption; I have not and will not heat my home with oil or other fossil fuel. I am a vegetarian: adding a carnivore member to the household is not something I think I should be doing right now. I would support returning to ethical, sustainable hunting, for those who purport that they can’t live without meat (oh, the hardship…) and reject even the alternatives – “if slaughterhouses had glass walls we’d all be vegetarian”… By all means, we should be aiming to replace factory meat with ethical hunting – if we weren’t already at a point of no return for wildlife…
I cannot, in good conscience, be part of the insane consumerism that is destroying life on Earth. And not because I just need to sleep well at night: lucky me, I’ve had a life so rich in adventures and laughter and tears that I am at peace. If I drop dead or get struck by lightning or have a tree fall on my head tomorrow, my penultimate thought would be “thanks for the memories”; my ultimate thought is and always will be, for as long as I draw breath, the beautiful person I love so much and I’m lucky to share this wondrous planet with: my precious daughter. For her sake, I am determined to try harder and go further and keep fighting for today and for tomorrow. I know that’s how loving parents feel the world over, and how young people feel about their own dreams and loved ones. They deserve better and for their sake, we have to clean up our mess…
Awareness is the first step. Fear and worry are very useful mechanisms for survival, favored and retained by evolution: fear is an alarm that awakens and alerts the brain to bring about organ function towards a change of behavior. Fear is the realization of the existence of a threat and the tool that triggers fast reaction to it. We need to be afraid. We need to see and accept the reality of the danger. We need to react without delay. We need to worry and care about what will happen to our children if we don’t. We need to change behaviors.
Animals have three options – three basic, instinctive reactions to fear: flee, fight or freeze. The mind of a sentient being quickly asserts the situation and decides: if the threat is too big and the opponent too powerful, fleeing might be the best choice; if the adversary can be overcome, fighting offers a better chance; if evading is possible by inaction, immobility and stealth, the animal freezes. Human beings similarly choose between avoidance, engagement or indifference. In this case, we have no other choice but to engage and fight, by changing behaviors, to overcome the problem. We cannot avoid it and we have no alternative, so indifference won’t do. The Blue Planet is our only home. What we mustn’t is panic, freeze and do nothing.
Panic is an extreme, irrational form of fear that paralyzes the ability to reason and find solutions. This type of fear, the result of ignorance, is what demagogues exploit and manipulate, to incite hatred and turn people against each other – the divide and conquer tactic. Panic is a disorder, permanent or temporary – and it can lead to total denial of the reality of the threat with predictable results. Climate change denial is sabotaging our chances to successfully change behaviors and save ourselves and our environment. Even worse is division, tribalism, nationalism, the kind of madness that promotes isolation and withdrawal from reality: there is no escape from the facts. Climate Change affects all of us, so all of us have to face it and act upon it – survival in social species depends upon cooperation: it is our common interest to come together and find solutions to a problem that threatens humanity as a whole and the entire planet, simple as that.
Knowledge is power: we need to educate ourselves, create dialogue and raise awareness in others. Personal and collective responsibility is the key. We can’t just hope for miracles or assume that our own contribution doesn’t matter. Every small step is critical for the outcome. We can’t say therefore that what is required of us is negligible or that dog ownership and dog breeding don’t count in this joint effort.
Of course dogs offer companionship, independence and safety in remote places for a great number of people. Many find it impossible to think of a life without them. For me, even the idea of never again sharing my home with a Great Dane is a very tough, emotionally costly prospect. The breed has been my most enduring love affair. And I am not sharing these thoughts to sing my own praises, but as an example that what we are tasked with is not going to be easy. We will all have to sacrifice personally, give up things that we previously cherished. Like traveling to see the world or driving fossil-fuelled cars and speedboats, or eating red meat…We need to evolve and adapt and do it very fast and it’s going to be difficult – nothing that is worth fighting for is ever easy…but we have been in dire circumstances before, we had to pull together during wars and fight dictators and natural or man-made disasters – and we made it. We absolutely have to rise to this occasion too and do much more than we ever did before. And we absolutely have to make it. We have to succeed.
Because the alternative is unthinkable…
Of course, I am not saying we have to give up pets and working dogs altogether. But we need to realistically reduce the number of dogs each person keeps, the number of puppies bred; we need to reconsider their diets, body size, health, population size and impact on the environment; we need to examine the pet industry and its practices, the raw pet food materials, their sources, emissions cost and ethics. We need to reduce the carbon pawprint. We have to address the problem of so many millions of surplus dogs and puppies being produced, abandoned and destroyed – that has skyrocketed in many western countries and is not being tackled. There are so many issues and ethical questions that are being ignored, brushed under the carpet; they remain unresolved for a long time – but we can’t afford to be complacent anymore – we don’t have the time or the luxury to continue business as usual. It’s literally a matter of Life and Death.
We are faced with enormous challenges. We could choose to do nothing: just mimic the Catholic Church and other religious fundamentalist ostriches’ absurdity, hypocrisy and criminal negligence, offering prayers instead of birth control. We could ignore the fact that our diets and lifestyles negatively affect the chances for survival of everyone else and of the world as we know it. We could tweedle our thumbs for the next five or even ten years and lie to our children about the dystopia we will leave them to suffer in. We could dispute the facts, turn a blind eye and go all out with a bang, or expect others to do something, while we vilify and leer at them for doing what we aren’t. We could deny that economic and military imperialism, materialism and consumerism are driving the crisis. We could just sit and watch the mass exodus of the refugees with callous indifference, leave them to die on our doorsteps or let them drown. We can fool ourselves that we will be spared by the Armageddon and waste precious time, efforts and resources building walls, as our lands turn to deserts and superstorms devastate our fellow citizens. We might even think of the preposterous – a nuclear war to reduce the population: some might even delude themselves that they’d somehow survive it; but the truth is, nobody will remain unaffected by the consequences of that, or of Hothouse Earth…
Or, we could elect to join a movement to transform our lives, our communities and our relationship with our environment; we can arm ourselves with solidarity and compassion, reach out, unite, organize, do our utmost best and give up everything that is not absolutely essential, in this unprecedented war and ultimate fight for