Author Peter Christie on Our Love of Pets and Love of Nature – Half-Earth

“It seems possible that the naturalist’s vision is only a specialized product of a biophilic instinct shared by all, that it can be elaborated to benefit more and more people. Humanity is exalted, not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.” —E.O. Wilson, from Biophilia

Author Peter Christie on Our Love of Pets and Love of Nature
Author Peter Christie chats with the Half-Earth Project about his book, Unnatural Companions. Christie’s book is a call to animal lovers and pet owners to be thoughtful about the pets they keep and how they care for them. Peter’s research and thinking on pet ownership was inspired by E.O. Wilson’s ideas about biophilia and how our love of pets might represent a biophilia paradox when it comes to conserving biodiversity. He concludes with the positive message that the small changes we make at home can foster better practices within the pet industry that will ultimately benefit our pets’ wild brethren.

Unnatural Companions Reading Reflection
In this activity, students read an excerpt from chapter 10 “The Pet-Keeper Conservationist” of Unnatural Companions, and then respond to reflection questions to deepen their understanding of the environmental impacts of pet ownership and Christie’s call to think more critically about the relationship between owning pets and nature conservation.

Biophilia and Energy Usage Data Play
In this data play, students will analyze a data table from a research article entitled “Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats” by Gregory S. Okin in the journal PLoS One. Students will be asked again to consider the ecological implications of pets but this time using data to back up their arguments. The data presented can make a powerful impression when going from the impact of individual cat, dog, or person, to the entire large population the United States.

Biophilia on Stuff to Blow Your Mind Podcast
Listen to Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick discuss Edward O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis and explore arguments for and against this captivating view of nature lovers and human psychology in general.

More Resources on the Environmental Impact of Pets
“Pet Owners Spending More on Time-Saving, Specialty Pet Care Services” from the US Census Bureau – Over the decade ending in 2017, sales of pet care services doubled, to a total of $5.8 billion, according to the latest Economic Census statistics.

“Reducing your Dog’s Carbon Pawprint” from AKC Pet Insurance – With approximately 89.7 million dogs owned in the United States, the environmental impact of pet ownership can be substantial.

“Economic Impact of U.S Pet Industry – All 50 States, DC & National” from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council – The American pet industry supports over 1.3 million U.S. jobs and pays more than $60 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits. The industry generates over $221 billion in direct, indirect, and induced economic impact annually.

HHMI Lizard Evolution Virtual Lab – This interactive, modular lab explores the evolution of the anole lizards in the Caribbean through data collection and analysis.

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