The High Carbon Cost of Kids

August 31, 2009

Want to cut your carbon footprint? Don't have any kids. No, of course we're not serious. If nobody had any children, life would come to a stop and who knows when the next Albert Einstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson or Anne Frank will be born? But I thought we'd take a look at a few of the effects of having a child around the world. A new study from Oregon State University outlines the high carbon cost of having children.
 
The average American woman who has a baby generates a carbon footprint seven times that of a similar age and sized Chinese woman who has a child. Why? Well, the obvious idea is that the average American woman gives birth in a hospital, surrounded by half a dozen doctors, nurses, aides and other support staff, while the average Chinese woman has her child in humbler circumstances, perhaps with a midwife or a family member by her side.

But the reality is that the estimate is based on how many children the American woman is likely to have: at least two. And each of those children are also likely to have offspring. And so on. And so on.

Even if our American parent does his/her best to Greenify by driving a smaller car, carpooling, recycles, and replaces all her appliances with energy efficient models, when she has two children, the researchers found, her carbon legacy eventually rises to nearly 40 times what she had saved by those actions.

"In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime," said Paul Murtaugh, a professor of statistics at O.S.U., in a statement accompanying the study’s release. "Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources."

When you consider how many stuffed bears and tigers each child needs and the usage of disposable diapers and infant formula as opposed to breast feeding (which is unquestionably the better option for both environment, mother and child but far more frequently done in foreign countries than in the United States) the numbers climb even more.

There are some things we can change. We can put in energy efficient lightbulbs. We can drink tap water and carpool and buy papertowels made from recycled paper. We can learn to plan our meals and budget our trips in the car and go back to renting movies that we'll only watch a couple of times anyway. And we should, right?

But we're going to keep having children, aren't we? Because otherwise, who are we Greenifying for?


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