Carbon Footprint or a Child?


Exchanging One Footprint for Another

Does this sound familiar?  It could have been lifted straight out of the 60’s- 70’s.  Remember the days of the population explosion panic?  (Thomas Malthus, 1766-1834–his theories never panned out)  Carbon footprint theories are a different issue, but with the same take on population explosion.  Both views are used to justify abortion.  Can’t anyone come up with something original???

If someone offered me a bag of 9,441 metric tons of carbon or a child. I would pick the child every time…..every time.

—Beetle Blogger


For people who are looking for ways to reduce their “carbon footprint,” here’s one radical idea that could have a big long-term impact, some scientists say: Have fewer kids.

A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environment-friendly practices people might employ during their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.

“In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,” said study team member Paul Murtaugh. “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.”

Reproductive choices haven’t gained as much attention in the consideration of human impact to the Earth, Murtaugh said. When an individual produces a child – and that child potentially produces more descendants in the future – the effect on the environment can be many times the impact produced by a person during their lifetime.

A child’s impact

Under current conditions in the United States, for instance, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.

The impact doesn’t only come through increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases – larger populations also generate more waste and tax water supplies.

The impact of having children differs between countries. While some developing nations have much higher populations and rates of population growth than the United States, their overall impact on the global carbon equation is often reduced by shorter life spans and less consumption. The long-term impact of a child born to a family in China is less than one-fifth the impact of a child born in the United States, the study found.

However, as the developing world increases both its population and consumption levels, this equation may even out.

“China and India right now are steadily increasing their carbon emissions and industrial development, and other developing nations may also continue to increase as they seek higher standards of living,” Murtaugh said.

Not advocating law

The researchers note that they are not advocating government controls or intervention on population issues, but say they simply want to make people aware of the environmental consequences of their reproductive choices.

“Many people are unaware of the power of exponential population growth,” Murtaugh said. “Future growth amplifies the consequences of people’s reproductive choices today, the same way that compound interest amplifies a bank balance.”



  1. Choice & Accountability said,

    August 8, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    Apparently, these “experts” have never heard of a demographic winter. The earth has plenty of resources at its disposal, and could support a population much larger than it does. Think what leaps in farming and irrigation techniques could be employed, were countries not forced to spend trillions on defense (mind you, I’m ALL for a very strong defense), but sadly, they are necessary because of gross selfishness on the part of a few tyrants out there. The wilderness could literally blossom like the rose, were the world at peace. Things can be done better–no need to mandate population control.

  2. August 9, 2009 at 5:38 am

    There are more significant consequences to such choices than just environmental ones. See my post Child, Choice, or Carbon Footprint?

  3. beetlebabee said,

    August 9, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    interesting how they claim that the population theories they’re espousing are not “for making law” but for social pressure only. In China, where one child laws are mandated, the people resent them. In the United States where there is no law enforced, the people welcome self-regulating population controls.

    Decades of selfish social trends have groomed a culture that looks down on larger families as “baby mills” or other derogatory labels. The connotation is that larger families cannot love several children as much as they can love one or two. Ironic isn’t it coming from a culture where we’re pressured into putting our kids in daycare and scheduling them to the hilt with no emphasis on family. There’s a pervasive myth out there that the state can do it better than you can, so fork the kids over. Two kids is hardly worth staying home to raise, here, let’s put them in daycare and you can be free….? That’s the other myth, if you only have one or two children, they’ll get more of the love and attention they deserve….as they sit in daycare.

    So here’s the question, who gives better care? The state regulated daycare/education/afterschool facilities that society pushes, or families dedicated to raising and loving their children regardless of number?

    When the time comes that people realize the need we have for larger families, it will be much easier for China to reverse their policies than it will be for us to reverse ours.

  4. August 11, 2009 at 8:15 am

    What a shame! It’s so sad how people just don’t value home, marriage and family. I guess when you lack the belief in a Creator who will supply enough for His children, then it might be easy to fret about the earth’s resources and to somehow think shrinking the family is the solution. It’s amazing to me how subtle and crafty so many of these pressures are at tearing at the fabric of the family. Anything to keep spirits from making it to mortality, right?

  5. August 11, 2009 at 11:21 am

    […] Also, please check out Beetle Blogger’s “Carbon Footprint of a Child“. […]

  6. busywithconviction said,

    August 13, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    I heard one of the researchers that published this study on NPR-Radio West KUER-last week. I found the conversation very interesting. I mentioned it to my mom and she told me about the arguments being made when she was in college in the 70’s. It is the same stuff the Beetle mentioned above.

    Bottom line the number of children you have should be between you, your spouse and if religious, God. The environmental impact of having children has never really crossed my mind before, but other factors have. I will likely exceed the recommended two children from the study. I guess I will have to help out the environment in others way-recycle, compost, use mass transit, do my best to not be an excessive consumer.

  7. KingM said,

    August 23, 2009 at 8:13 am

    It’s inconsistent, at best, that the same people telling Americans to have fewer children are also encouraging the mass immigration of millions of people from undeveloped nations who will presumably start living the American lifestyle as soon as they are able.

    However, just because the population bomb hasn’t exploded yet, doesn’t mean it won’t. Declining birth rates or not, the Earth will still welcome three billion more people in the next fifty years and eventually the birth rate either has to reach replacement level or we’ll eat ourselves off the planet like a swarm of locusts.

    I think the education and liberation of women in the Middle East and Africa is the key, together with the universal availability of birth control.

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