Opinion: Carbon footprints of pets fuel the fires | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Carbon footprints of pets fuel the fires

One of the ways air pollution has been addressed in China is by creating giant photographs on vinyl screens to be used in the background of tourists’ photos. Tourists still visit famous sites like the Great Wall and Forbidden City, but their memories don’t have to be marred by views of distances and colors muted with smog. For a small fee, they can pose in front of a vinyl photograph of whatever attraction they’re visiting with a vibrant, blue sky in the background.

My daughter saw this firsthand when she visited China last spring with a student group from Grand Junction High School. They traveled across hundreds of miles of Chinese landscapes but returned without a single photo containing a blue sky. They could see only a few hundred yards of the 4,000-mile Great Wall of China at a time, and mountains would seem to appear out of nowhere. When Grand Junction students shared photos of their homes, Chinese students could not be convinced that the blue skies were real.

The smoke obscuring the view of our Bookcliffs in recent weeks barely compares to what people in other parts of the world experience everyday. Most of us only know it’s there when we see it obscuring our landscapes, and people requiring surgical masks to leave their homes are rarities. Still, though, it’s too much for me. The smoky, gray air depresses me, and it makes fully recovering from a recent cold impossible.

If there’s anything that could bring joy into these dreary days, it must surely be a puppy, and I just happen to have a new one of those. I already had too many animals when he came along, and in the back of my head was a vague recollection of an article about the high carbon footprints of pets. Until now the stories of my rescued pets were so pitiful that, of course, they were animals that deserved to be saved, and they were all substantially smaller than the Australian Shepard puppy that I just inherited.

Many of the responsibilities associated with a large breed dog were immediately apparent. He needs six times as much food as my 10-pound Papillion and eyes the wooden legs and leather cushions of my living room chair as a standby chew toy for the time I forget to keep him well stocked with entertaining playthings.

Besides the immediate effect to my bank account wrought by our new family member, there has been the smoke in the air to remind me that the cost of everything we have and everything we do is greater than a number on a price tag. I’m well aware of the correlation between decreased prices and increased human rights violations, for example, but was astounded to realize the hidden cost of pets.

As it turns out, the environmental impact of feeding a large-breed dog for six months is equivalent to driving a full-sized SUV 10,000 miles. Feeding a cat is equivalent to driving a compact car for a year. American pets have larger carbon footprints than human beings in some parts of the world.

In the shadow of those numbers, no one can dispute the importance of spaying and neutering, but despite their cost to the planet, I’m sure not ready to get rid of my furry friends.

The smoke in our air is a constant reminder of the cost of the things we have. As Americans, our need for climate-controlled environments, meat-based diets, personal fossil-fueled vehicles, and massive amounts of everything has resulted in an individual carbon footprint twice as big as people have in the world’s most polluted countries.

Our habits have warmed the oceans, and they’re beginning to change our climate. Last year was the warmest year ever recorded, and 2015 is beating it. Our fresh water is polluted or used up, and our forests are burning.

No price tag can adequately label it, but this is the cost of our stuff. One can only wonder how great the cost must become before we’ll change our habits.

A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.

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