Researchers at Oregon State University have made some helpful calculations on how much extra carbon little Johnny and/or Suzie are likely to emit over the course of their Gaia-destroying lifetimes. As the OSU press release explains:
Some people who are serious about wanting to reduce their "carbon footprint" on the Earth have one choice available to them that may yield a large long-term benefit – have one less child.
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 environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
The research also makes it clear that potential carbon impacts vary dramatically across countries. The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.
"In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime," said Paul Murtaugh, an OSU professor of statistics. "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."
In this debate, very little attention has been given to the overwhelming importance of reproductive choice, 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.
Under current conditions in the U.S., 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.
Since the average American woman has 2.05 children over the course of her lifetime now, aka, the replacement rate, this implies a future total fertility rate of around 1 going forward, about where Hong Kong is today.
My question: Since my wife and I are childless by choice, do we get extra carbon credits to sell? Let's see: 9,441 tons X $50 per ton X 2 kids = $944,100. Deal.
So would deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions make much of a difference? According to the press release, the study finds:
The study examined several scenarios of changing emission rates, the most aggressive of which was an 85 percent reduction in global carbon emissions between now and 2100. But emissions in Africa, which includes 34 of the 50 least developed countries in the world, are already more than twice that level.
The study passes over in silence the lifestyle that level of emissions implies.
In any case, people are already having fewer children. I speculate as to why in my column, "Why are People Having Fewer Kids?: Perhaps it's because they don't like them very much." (For my next trick, I will kick puppies.)
On a happier note, recent research suggests that an "Invisible Hand of Population Control" is already encouraging lower fertility rates.