Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day Rant: what about kids?

With the knowledge that our carbon economy is destroying the ice caps, this year we have more reason than ever to embrace the Earth Day sentiment, so I did the carbon footprint calculator... and, no surprise, I'm one of the worst offenders on the planet when it comes to leeching carbon into the atmosphere and having a general lack of regard for conservation.

I spew out nearly 40 tons of CO2 per year which is 7X the world's average and much more than the US average of 27 tons. The questionnaire covers such topics as how much I drive, the size of my house, my recycling habits and whether I eat organic food and meat. The lowest I can get my carbon level is 9.6 by following all their recommendations of becoming a vegetarian, never traveling by plane, and always driving a hybrid car, etc.

Here's my problem with this and all such carbon footprint calculators: they never ask how many offspring you have. The number of progeny an individual produces definitely would increase the amount of carbon used by the family for energy and other things, assuming the kids lived in Western civilization. Kids will eat meat, need clothes and heat, and some day they will likely drive cars and travel in airplanes and have kids of their own. Yet, none of this is taken into account when figuring someone's carbon footprint versus an individual who has never procreated.

In fact, my personal score improves if my wife and I were to have 2 kids living in our house instead of just the two of us. Using this twisted logic, a guy my age with six kids in my smallish house and using my car would actually be considered to be saving the planet with his lifestyle!

I fully understand the compelling urge to reproduce; we are all the result of the natural process of evolution that has selected out the most successful reproducers. Our limbic systems are hard-wired to make more of us. But let's just realize that these kids will all spew carbon into the atmosphere for 80 years and they will likely have kids themselves who will do the same and this should be factored into the carbon footprint calculation. It's eery how scientists, journalists, conservationists and citizens of every stripe never see this huge discrepancy with footprint calculations and happily go along thinking that if they cart around their passel of a dozen kids in a hybrid Escape then all is well. (Pets, too, generally eat meat and require heat and shelter, although to a much lesser extent than children.)

Where's the little pie wedge labeled "kids"
Although I do not have children, nor have I adopted Third world kids to live a frothy Western lifestyle, and I will never have grandkids or great grandkids to melt whatever remains of the Arctic ice cap and exterminate the polar bears or drown the residents of the Maldives, I do see the immense joy that parents exhibit and appreciate that procreation is not really negotiable. Humans will continue to populate this planet until this planet cannot hold any more of us, and we will continue to justify this even as the last of the remaining large mammals becomes extinct and climate change irrevocably alters our habitat.

Although I pump 40 tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year and remain the scourge of and every other so-called conservation group, I know my destructive planetary onslaught, unlike most everybody else's, will end in a mere 40 years..., I'll take an extra long, extra hot, shower to celebrate Earth Day.


G in Berlin said...

Those of us with children would prefer that, unlike so many of the previous generation, you feel a little empathy for those who will live after you die: that is really the essence of mprality, isn't it? To be able to empathize with those who are not yourself?

Eric said...


Tony said...

I hope you are not accusing me of having a lack of empathy! I'm merely saying that the CO2 calculators are inaccurate.

If we really cared about "the next generation" I think we would at least admit that kids pollute. In that respect I have more empathy than you, ma'am.

G in Berlin said...

I don't actually understand you. It is clear that if you and your wife shared a home with two others that you would be less of a "carbon hog" than having only two in your house, isn't it? But when you end your post as you do, it really doesn't imply that you care> Btw, I am not telling you not to take a shower. But if you think not having children entitles you to use up as much of the world's resources as possible because neither you nor your descendants will be around, that really does seem clear. Am I reading your post wrongly? And I didn't think your post even implied that CO2 calculators were wrong or that that ws the thrust of your post.

Tony said...

Well, you are hardly the first to find me incomprehensible. lol.

The thrust of the blog-post is that we in Western civilization seem blind to the idea that having children, or adopting Third world children to Western lifestyles, has a huge impact on the environment. HUGE. And it is never enters the dialog of the "save the earth" crowd. You tell me, why is that?

During the remainder of our lives, using very generous estimates, my wife and I will put 3200 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere using present consumption estimates.

If we had 2 kids, that number would be roughly double that for the next 40 years, and then those kids will live another 40 years after that, polluting all the way. The total carbon use and pollution for those four individuals under even the most conservative estimates would dwarf the childless couple. Then factor in grand-kids, etc.

Sure, we could transform our economy to reduce carbon use, but that has never been done to date. Nuclear power perhaps gives the most promise, but that has its own set of problems.

The calculators are designed to provide awareness, yet they ignore the greatest factor in carbon use and pollution: kids. Why?

(And I won't even get into the tax credits and deductions, govt-funded school and day-care and other incentives we provide to have kids. Cognitive dissonance writ large.)

Tony said...

BTW, the shower thing was my lame attempt at humor. My friends all know I don't shower.

Eric said...

I can't believe this became a discussion.

I think you get conservation points by choosing not to be a Breeder.

Can't you count the dog?

Tony said...

In honor of Earth Day, I just told my dog she's now a vegetarian. I'll keep you posted how it works out.