Climate Terms 101: Carbon pawprints, and why you should feed your pet insects

When people think about reducing their carbon footprint, it usually involves cutting back on vehicle use or electricity inside the home. Those are the largest contributors of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that increases global warming.

But few people think about how their pets may contribute to ecological destruction or what they can do about it.

That’s known as a carbon pawprint.

It’s believed that cats and dogs are responsible for up to 30% of the environmental impact caused by meat production, according to a 2017 study. That works out to 64 million tons of CO2, or the emissions produced by 10 million diesel cars annually.

As it happens, agriculture is the third largest producer of carbon dioxide, which has prompted debate on the morality of meat consumption. According to a 2019 study, Americans consume 332lbs of meat annually, the world’s second-largest amount per capita.

However, concern for the environment is one of the top reasons 1 in 4 Americans have reduced their meat consumption in recent years, according to a 2020 Gallup poll.

But what can environmentally conscious people do about their pet’s carbon pawprint?

Take a deep breath because you might not like this.

In recent years, as Americans have become more conscious about meat sources and farm animals’ welfare, people have ensured that their pets eat better meat. That has placed additional strain on the carbon-intensive livestock industry.

That has led to a high-protein and eco-friendly breakthrough in the industry: pet food made from insects. While some might find that a horrific proposition for their beloved animal, the protein yield per acre of land is far greater than that of livestock, according to multiple reports.

“If you had an acre of land and you put cows on it, at the end of a year, you’re gonna get 192 pounds of protein,” Anne Carlson, the founder and CEO of the insect-based pet food company Jiminy, said in a recent interview. “If you had chickens, you get 265 pounds of protein. But if you had crickets? Sixty-five thousand pounds of protein at the end of the year. And grubs, over a million pounds of protein.”

The reason for the extra protein is pretty simple. Insects have a far shorter lifespan.

“For crickets, it’s approximately six weeks,” added Carlson. “They also reproduce at a super-high rate. So if you think about a cow, it’s having one to two babies at a time and it takes nearly a year to gestate, but grubs are laying 500 eggs at a time.”

Mixed in with the insect food are carrots, green beans, brown rice, potatoes, garbanzo beans and pumpkin, among other healthy ingredients.

Bonus point for insects: there’s no waste at all.

Christopher Harress

Christopher Harress |

Climate change reporter on the east and Gulf coasts.

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