Magazine | August 28, 2017, Issue

Apocalypse Hound

Perhaps you saw the story ping-ponging around the Internet in August: Climate-change activists want to ban dogs and cats

You weren’t surprised. If something gives ease and joy to human life, someone yearns to ban it. If climate activists could wave a magic wand and make everyone in the industrialized world suddenly wear a hemp smock and live in a yurt slurping a slurry of tofu and pulverized insect thoraxes—a great source of protein!—many would say, “Heck, yeah.” The planet might not heat up by a full degree, and magic is probably carbon-free.

They would reserve the right to live in a house themselves, of course. The person who signs the ban outlawing dogs will pause, sigh with satisfaction and noble emotions, then scratch his own dog between the ears.

He’s not the problem. The problem, as ever, is you people.

You have dogs and cats, and they eat too much meat, the production of which generates 64 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Does that mean anything to you? No? It’s equal to the exhaust produced annually by 13.6 million cars. And dogs chase cars, which makes them hungry, so they eat more meat.

It’s bad. Everything’s bad. Everything’s hopeless. You wonder why Al Gore bothered making another movie; it’s obvious we don’t deserve him. We will continue to eat our steaks and cool our houses. Antarctica will melt before the penguins can evolve into flying birds instead of adorable bowling pins that hop around. Within your lifetime you will see an unbroken expanse of penguin heads sinking in the warm water, unable to escape. Then a lot of bubbles. Then nothing.

Thanks, Fido. Thanks, Missy Meow.

To be fair, the author of the study doesn’t want to take away your pets. To quote from Phys.org, which ran the original story on the study:

 “I like dogs and cats, and I’m definitely not recommending that people get rid of their pets or put them on a vegetarian diet, which would be unhealthy,” [UCLA geography professor Gregory] Okin said.

Whew. The professor is not recommending that you gas your dog for the sake of the planet. But, but, but, but:

But I do think we should consider all the impacts that pets have so we can have an honest conversation about them. Pets have many benefits, but also a huge environmental impact.

Ah, yes. The conversation. The honest conversation. That’s all! Just a chat! Like when your spouse says, “We should have a conversation about monogamy.” That always goes well for you.

Is this like the conversation we had about incandescent light bulbs? The conversation we had about low-flush toilets? The conversation they want to have about showerheads that go cold after six minutes so we’ll hurry up? The conversation about our hamburgers, our cars, our houses, our mulish refusal to take a bike to work in the sleet?

“I’m not a vegetarian, but eating meat does come at a cost,” [the professor] continued. “Those of us in favor of eating or serving meat need to be able to have an informed conversation about our choices, and that includes the choices we make for our pets.”

So, are we having another conversation after the first one? Or is this all one fun conversation? Because here’s how it could possibly go.

“We need to talk about your dog’s effect on the climate.”

“We really don’t. ‘How about those Red Sox?’ ‘Do you watch Game of Thrones?’ See, those are conversations. Unless you are worried about the carbon impact of dragon breath or whether baseball bats are made from sustainable wood.”

“No, we need to talk about your dog’s food. Vast swathes of the planet could become inhospitable if current trends continue, and meat consumption is a big part of why we’re seeing more severe storms and famine.”

“We have famine because we eat too much meat? Okay, let’s have that conversation.”

“No—it’s . . . complicated. Point is, we should talk about what you feed your dog. If you’re concerned about meat production—”

“Are they producing meat? Then I’m not concerned.”

“You should be. Why aren’t you?”

“Ah, a question! Just like an actual conversation. Well, I don’t subscribe to apocalyptic theories, and even if I thought it was a grand idea to return Western civ to some pre-industrial golden age where you died at 30 from an abscessed tooth or your sixth pregnancy, China and India would still be building coal-fired plants to power the plants that make steel for building more coal-fired plants.”

“But if we could all do something to help, perhaps your next pet could be something with a lower carbon pawprint. Perhaps a bird, or a hamster.”

“Perhaps, indeed. Does a bird tuck himself into a ball at the end of the bed at night? Do you take a hamster for a long walk, marveling at his ability to become enraptured by scents you cannot possibly perceive? Do hamsters have friends in the neighborhood as well as sworn enemies, making every walk a drama of neighborhood politics? Does a bird come to you with a ball and ask you to have fun for a little while? Can a hamster run across a field with great joy because he thought he’d lost you, but there you are, and it’s the best thing in the world for both of you?”

“Look, if you’re not going to agree with my premises and conclusions, what’s the point of having a conversation?”

No doubt the scientist means well, but these “conversations” never seem intended to reach any conclusion but this:

You there. Stop that.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

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