Greens are always on the lookout for new ways to tell people how to live sustainably, and now they’ve recently alighted on a new bit of officious instruction: get rid of your resource-hogging pets. As an op-ed in the Guardian argues, man’s best friend is mother earth’s enemy:
Two German Shepherds use more resources just for their annual food needs than the average Bangladeshi uses each year in total. And while pet owners may disagree that Bangladeshis have more right to exist than their precious Schnookums, the truth is that pets serve little more societal purpose than keeping us company in an increasingly individualistic and socially isolated consumer society. […][O]ur pet population consumes a huge amount of resources which, in our climate constrained reality, are no longer available. With a human population of 7.2 billion and a dog and cat population now in the hundreds of millions (it’s estimated at 179m in the US alone), the Earth cannot sustain these populations – especially as a growing percentage of pets live their lives as ravenous consumers.
The author of that article writes that, in a world with more social capital, many wouldn’t feel the need for pets in the first place. He goes so far as to suggest that there’s an opportunity cost in spending time with one’s pets, namely that you spend less time with your fellow man, and your community therefore suffers. Cue the inevitable noisy outcry from devoted pet owners. Sure, it’s silly, but this kind of advice points to a stubborn flaw in the modern green movement.Telling people not to own pets is like telling people not to eat meat: it riles the layperson up, and triggers a knee-jerk reaction not just against the specific issue the environmentalist may be advocating for, but for the green movement in general. Sure, our collective impact on the environment would be a lot less if we all went herbivore, or gave up our pet dogs for pet rocks, but that’s never going to happen. And this is worse than a lost cause—it backfires on greens, undermining both their credibility as policy advocates and as rational observers of the human condition. It wastes political capital at a time when the movement’s reservoirs are running dangerously low. We need—and the world deserves—much smarter green thinking than what we’ve got.