Big foot

February 24, 2009

My one year old son’s foot fits comfortably in the palm of my hand, yet his carbon footprint is huge.  Using an online carbon emissions calculator, I calculated the carbon emissions from the flights that he had taken in his young life.  Turns out his per capita emissions based on his flights alone are greater than those of approximately 70% of the world’s, despite the fact that he weighs less than 25 pounds and his entire vocabulary is comprised of “mommy,” “daddy” and “juice.”

So, how does N.’s carbon footprint stack up?  Well, like I said, I only calculated his emissions from flying, as the calculations from the house and ground transport seemed too complicated and were likely to be much smaller as we don’t own a car and have a small apartment.  This chart, which shows per capita distribution of carbon emissions, shows that N.’s 6.31 tonnes of carbon emitted through his flights puts him exactly on par with the average Iranian (in 2004).   And therefore his emissions are larger than the average French, Mexican, Thai or even Chinese citizen.  Quite sobering.

Of course, N. is an innocent victim of his parent’s irresponsible travel habits, which are contributing to global warming.  He didn’t ask to go to Texas for Christmas, though he definitely enjoyed playing with his grandparents and harassing their dog.  And that’s my only excuse.  Since his grandparents live in two different countries, and we live in a third, almost all of his flights are explained away by visiting them.  Since he was born in November 2007, he’s flown round-trip to the US three times from London, taken one domestic US flight, flown round trip to Italy four times and flown once from Italy to Germany and from Germany back to the UK to attend a wedding.  Makes me wonder if there is a special offset mechanism for keeping globalised children in touch with their grandparents…

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6 Responses to “Big foot”

  1. LMP said

    Post script: my brother and sister-in-law live in the world’s highest per capita emitter: Qatar. Looks like high carbon footprints run in the family…

  2. Stijn said

    There is: it’s called a webcam! :-)
    By the way, you forgot to count (part of) the CO² emissions from the flights the grandparents made with the main aim of visiting N. Presumably they have made at least one visit they otherwise wouldn’t have made.

  3. LMP said

    N. is a Skype pro, Stijn! But you’re right that the grandparents travel to see should probably be included as well!

  4. Matthias said

    Lauren, I have good news! When reading your entry, I remembered that my brother wrote his engineering dissertation on how commercial airliners can reduce their kerosene usage by reducing weight on board of aircrafts (he is an engineer turned pilot working for Lufthansa). So I called him and asked him about the relationship b/w extra weight and CO2 emissions on an average commercial aircraft. He told me the following:

    1) By adding an extra kg of weight to the freight of an aircraft (I am afraid – for the sake of my argument -, I have to assume that N is merely extra weight on an aircraft but bear with me for 2 minutes!), the fuel consumption rises by something between 4-5% of the extra weight/hour of flight (depending on a number of factors such as long-haul/ short-haul flight or cruising altitude of the aircraft).
    2) Multiply the fuel consumption (in weight) by a factor of about 3.5 and you will get the CO2 emissions of the extra weight carried by the aircraft.
    3) A commercial airliner calculates an average passenger to weigh 84 kg (possibly more in the States?!) carrying an average of 16kg of luggage (possibly more on long-distance flights).
    Assuming that the website you used to calculate N’s carbon emissions calculates the CO2 emissions the same way (or at least about the same way), this would of course greatly reduce N’s carbon emissions as he weighs less than 12kg and presumably carries less than 16kg of luggage with him to see his grandparents in Texas (even with all the Christmas presents his mom is carrying for him).

    So, let’s assume that N’s weight (including luggage) is about 20kg (let’s also assume that that is a mere sixth of the average American passenger – or a fifth of the average European passenger – flying long-distance flights including luggage). You wrote that the website calculated N to be causing 6.31 tonnes of carbon emitted through his flights. Crunching the numbers is easy in this case: 6,31/6 = 1,05 or 6,31/5= 1,26

    N’s carbon emissions thus resemble the carbon emissions of the average person in any country on the list between Gabon and Fiji!

    This of course applies only for N, not for his grandparents, I am afraid.

  5. LMP said

    Matthias – Thanks for this! Though some of my friends wouldn’t be pleased by this, seeing these calculations makes me feel less guilty!

  6. […] (though perhaps not for long) a car free household (which marginally balances our flight related carbon footprint) we do almost all of our grocery shopping online. Among the things that I noticed was running low […]

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