This was written by Jeff Feldman for The Daily Climate:
Last year, on March 25, my wife Kristin and I made a lifestyle choice, that by all accounts will have the most egregious environmental impact of our lives.
Kristin gave birth to a child.
Naturally, we were thrilled at this truly wondrous event. As any parent will tell you, having a baby is among the greatest joys one can know. Yet at the same time, my green conscience questioned me: What impact will my child have on the Earth?
It’s hard to argue with the numbers. Despite all the effort Kristin and I put into being good upstanding environmental citizens – living in an energy-efficient home, raising some of our own food, recycling – the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of our child will overshadow by 20 times all of our green do-gooder acts.
That’s the conclusion of a 2009 Oregon State University study. In the United States, the long-term environmental impact of each new baby will be at least five times that of a child born in China. The average American consumes more than 25 times the resources of an average person from a developing country.
Put another way, parents in a developing country would need to have 25 children before causing the same environmental impact as the single child we brought into the world – a sobering statistic.
‘Carbon Footprint Feldman’
Our son’s environmental impact began well before he emerged from the womb, as we drove weekly to doctors across our region, in Winchester, Va.; Bethesda, Md.; and beyond. Kristin and I joked at one point about naming our son “Carbon Footprint Feldman.” In the end, we simply called him JJ – at least conserving letters of the alphabet!
JJ may indeed grow up to be yet another typical American consumer, wasteful of energy, food, and water, a buyer of “stuff” that contributes to the depletion of natural resources and global pollution. But is his path predestined? Do other possibilities exist?
Think back a decade. What was the state of our green economy then? The renewable energy boom had only just started, and the first Toyota Prius hybrids had just been released for domestic sale. The local food movement was just gaining traction, and the green product universe existing today had not yet experienced its Big Bang.
Now rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles are almost commonplace. Locally-grown food is readily available. Products of various shades of green line the shelves at Walmart and Home Depot. We have a long way yet to go, yes, but who knows what the next decade may bring.
Advances beyond imagining
JJ’s world could see green advances beyond imagining: A clean limitless energy source, technologies that assure abundant and healthy food and water, or a fully closed cradle-to-grave loop for the production, use, and repurposing of products.
The truth is, we cannot begin to know. So what’s a green-minded parent to do?
Kristin and I hold strong environmental values, and it is our intent to model them for our child in the hope that he adopts them in his own actions and choices.
We will raise our child to appreciate and revel in the wonder of this place we call home. We will try to instill in him a respect for what we have and how precious it is. We will try to teach him that every choice comes with consequence. We will do our best, and hope that JJ becomes a citizen of the Earth who walks upon her with the lightest of footsteps.
Bathed in our green light, could our son come to lead a life that somehow balances the environmental consequences of his birth? The hopeful part of me clings to “perhaps” while the realist part of me whispers, “likely not.”
As parents, perhaps the best we can do – the best any parent can do – is prepare our child to live mindfully, purposefully and respectfully. Perhaps that’s our greatest green legacy.
Jeff Feldman runs GreenPath Consulting, a green building consulting firm. Jeff, his wife, Kristin Alexander, and new son, JJ, live in a straw-bale home in Berkeley County, W.V.