As I get ready to welcome our first child this summer, I started to wonder about her carbon footprint. There are plenty of overwhelming statistics out there about how many diapers I’ll be going through (2,800 in the first year!) and how much it will cost to raise this child for the next 18 years ($250,000+), but less apparent is the environmental impact of a newborn.
The widely used statistic is that the average American adult is responsible for about 20 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, mainly from driving, flying, and home energy use. Yet these factors are a bit more complicated to attribute to a baby, who will after all only have an incremental effect on our household’s carbon footprint.
She’ll be lucky if she’s ever allowed to drive on her own, but as a newborn, she will certainly be hitting the carpool lane with mommy. We will be adding some trips to the pediatrician and BabiesRUs, as well as the weight of her and her gear, which will have a slight effect on our fuel efficiency. I can’t imagine this will add up to more than an additional metric ton of CO2 per year. But is she responsible for all the trips that her grandparents and other adoring fans take to our house to visit?
She definitely won’t be getting her own airplane seat in the first year, if we ever manage to get out of the house with her. Sitting on my lap, we can share the carbon footprint of my seat on the plane.
And perhaps I’ve underestimated the impact on our home energy use. I’m sure I will feel the need to pump the heat a little higher at home to make sure she’s comfortable instead of my usual approach of just piling on the sweatshirts and blankets. But apparently a baby can increase home energy consumption by over 60% and water use by 60-100 gallons per day.
The real impact, however, comes in the form of waste — diapers, clothing, toys and gear. This impact is much more difficult to calculate. One little pacifier encompasses the carbon emissions from the extraction of the raw materials to the manufacturing to the shipping. What is that on a per-binkie basis?
So, what will my baby’s carbon footprint be in year 1? I still can’t find a good answer to that question. According to Mother Jones, Zahara Jolie-Pitt will produce 45,000 lbs of CO2 (20.4 metric tons CO2) yearly, compared with 221 lbs if she still lived in Ethiopia. Thankfully, I can guarantee that Little Karp will not be living the Jolie-Pitt lifestyle, so at least she’s got that going for her. The real question is: will sleep deprivation have any impact on my carbon footprint?