Well, according to a new study from statisticians at Oregon State University, apparently I make a big difference, simply because I am childfree.
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.In other words, a typical American who tries to live as green as possible - driving a fuel-efficient car, recycling, using efficient light bulbs, using energy-saving appliances, etc. - undoes the positive impact of his green efforts 40 times over by having 2 children - increasing his carbon footprint 40 times.
The researchers smartly point out that curbing population growth is rarely addressed in discussions about climate change:
In this debate, very little attention has been given to the overwhelming importance of reproductive choice...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.
While the researchers do not advocate for government regulation of reproduction, they do hope to educate people on the environmental consequences of reproducing.
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.
I'll take it a step further. Consider not having any children at all and you'll really do the Earth a big favor.
(Thank you Amy and CFVixen for forwarding me this study).