Time to eat the pets?
OK. Let's imagine that you've heard all the talk about this crucial conference in Copenhagen and you've decided that you want to do your bit and clean up your carbon footprint. So, where to start?
That's what my wife and I were asking ourselves a couple of years ago after I, rather recklessly, agreed to accept a BBC challenge to try to cut the family's greenhouse gas emissions.
Here's how we got on and - as you will see - we started our eco-makeover with our home - a pretty sensible place to begin, as our homes are together responsible for a quarter of this country's carbon emissions.
Trying to make my home more carbon efficient taught me a very important lesson - the only way to get significant cuts is if you look at all aspects of your home.
You can't just put in a bit more insulation, you also need to turn down your thermostat, change the bulbs, get thicker curtains etc, etc, etc...
But one area of our home lives always tends to escape under the ethical radar - our pets. I think it is time to give them the "ethical" attention they deserve.
First, a few pet related facts:
- The most popular pets are, overwhelmingly, cats and dogs
- According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association dogs sneak into the number one spot - six million UK households (23% of the total) own a dog
- Cats are pretty close behind though, 5.2 million UK households have at least one cat (20%)
- In terms of actual numbers our affections are evenly split - we own eight million of each
That's right 16 million dogs and cats!
I know what you are thinking... and the average dog is reckoned to produce half a tonne of the stuff in its 10-year life.
But it is not what comes out of our dogs and cats but what goes into them which presents the biggest environmental dilemma of pet ownership.
What I am talking about is our pets' environmental "pawprint".
A big dog like a Labrador or Alsatian consumes around 1,000 calories a day - half that of an adult woman.
And, because dogs (and cats) are primarily carnivorous, they get those calories from the most carbon intensive of foods - meat.
The issue of carbon pawprints has been in the news recently thanks to a new book: Time to Eat the Dog.
The authors have attempted to estimate the environmental impact of a range of popular pets.
Their most startling conclusion is that dogs are significantly more damaging to the planet than SUVs.
The authors claim that keeping a medium-sized dog has the same ecological impact as driving a 4.6 litre Land Cruiser 10,000km a year.
They use a rather unusual method of calculating environmental impact.
Instead of measuring emissions of CO2, or CO2 equivalent, they calculate the literal footprint or "global hectare" (gha) - the amount of land it takes to support a given activity.
So they work out that constructing and driving the Land Cruiser for a year takes 0.41 gha.
Growing and manufacturing the 164kg of meat and 95kg of cereals a border collie or cocker spaniel eats every year takes about 0.84 gha.
A bigger dog such as a German shepherd consumes even more - its pawprint is more like 1.1 gha.
By their reckoning, that is more than the environmental footprint of the average Indian person, who uses just 0.8 gha of resources.
If you are a multiple dog owner you are in even more trouble. Two big dogs have a bigger carbon footprint than some British citizens.
According to the book the average resident of Cardiff requires just 1.89 gha.
The average American, by contrast, requires a whopping 9.5 gha.
You will be glad to hear that other pets are not so damaging.
A cat needs 0.15 gha, a hamster 0.014 gha, and a canary 0.007 gha.
The most carbon efficient pet is a goldfish. Its tiny "finprint" requires just 0.00034 gha.
So how can we get the companionship and pleasure of pet ownership without it weighing too heavily on our carbon consciences?
The authors have an answer to that - we need to start eating our pets!
They suggest that instead of dogs and cats we should keep chickens and rabbits which will keep us company and make a tasty dinner too.
What will you do with your pet dog now you've been convinced that he or she is an enemy of the environment?
The book draws a blank here. It doesn't have a single recipe for dog!
So if you are planning to pop your pooch in the pot here's a link that will tell you how to make a really tasty dog stew.