Jan 21, 2009

Depleting the world's resources? Who us?

Recently a comment filtered back to us after one of the farmers markets that we sell milk at that we are depleting the world’s resources with our eleven children. Now obviously this kind of comment is not new. One doesn’t reach almost 21 years of parenthood without considering the varied reasons for having (or not) children. Obviously we weigh the different factors somewhat differently than most, after all one doesn’t have to be a genius to realize that most people do NOT have 11 children. (In fact the opposite has been charged because we DO keep having them!) Enjoying a good debate, I have in years past brushed up on the statistics and waged war against the naysayers. I will give the usual points a quick run through, lest anyone be disappointed, but this time when I heard the comment it really started me thinking…depleting the worlds resources. Are we really?

First the usual comments…not all scientists agree about overpopulation. Many believe that the issues at hand leading to the lack of resources for many of the poorer nations of the world are not linked to simple numbers but issues such as political and social instability. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the earth has the capability to feed 33 billion people while estimating that the world’s population will likely plateau at 9 to 11 billion. In many nations of the world the birth rate has fallen to well below replacement rates. And did you know that you could stand every single person in the world, shoulder to shoulder and they still would not fill the city of Jacksonville, Florida! I do not mean to make light of the horrible situations faced by many around our globe. I have seen it up close and personal. I grew up in Indonesia and have seen poverty on more continents than most people ever get to. But the truth remains that the oft cited warnings about overpopulation are not accepted universally and by more than those of us who obviously have yogurt for brains as evidenced by the little ducks that we have following after us in the aisles of Sam's Club.

But now that I have done my duty as the mother of not one but two basketball teams and rattled off the usual suspects..er…statistics, I return to pondering the question at hand. Is my family, happily running about Waller County, Texas, really depleting the world’s resources? That is a rather weighty accusation. How does one prove or disprove it? Well, I decided to take a rather scary step. I decided to join the ranks of those who have calculated their carbon footprint. While this won’t address every issue in question regarding the worlds resources I figured it is a step, and a step that cannot really be argued with.

I searched online. I found one site and plugged in our numbers. I closed my eyes and hit “compute carbon footprint”. Oh so slowly and cautiously I opened my eyes. I saw an angel figure flitting about under the cartoonesque tree on my computer screen. Oh no, I killed the earth! Wait...428 lbs per person. What does THAT mean? Oh! The graph on the bottom says that is “much less than average”. Wow! That’s cool! But…can it be right? I look around my house…filled to the rafters with people and their stuff and shake my head. That can’t be right…there is a bigger carbon footprint than that in my living room alone, it seems! So I search some more. I find another such calculator. This one even offers buying and selling of credits! (I may need that, I think.) So I fill out the blanks and drop down boxes. And this one does seem to be much more detailed and thorough. Again we come to that final “compute button”. I was right, the first calculator didn’t give the whole picture. This one was more rigorous and it didn’t give us as good a report. (Perhaps because the drop down box didn't allow me to put in 13 for number in household...the most it allowed was ten. Bummer. So we got a worse report than we really should have.) But I did do due diligence and this second one is the one that I will stick with.

It tells me…
*Your footprint is 4.93 tonnes per year.
*The average footprint for people in the United States is 20.40 tonnes.
*The average for the industrial nations is about 11 tonnes.
*The average carbon footprint worldwide is about 4 tonnes.
*The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 tonnes.

Now, before I go further I have to tell you that I am not sold out to the idea of global warming. So there, just call me one of “them”, but that is the way I see it and is a topic for another day. At any rate, though, if someone believes that we are raping and pillaging the world, this is a powerful bit of information for my fact arsenal. Pretty nifty, huh? But I did continue to ponder. WHY are our numbers so low?

There are several things that we do that would contribute to having a lessened impact on the environment. We use cloth diapers. More wash loads, but we do use the most water and energy efficient washing machine to be had. And we often hang clothes out. We so rarely shop for new as opposed to used clothes and furniture and toys and bikes that my children are scandalized by the price of new clothes—at Walmart. We do not eat out (few places can accommodate us!) and when we cook we cook from scratch…no frozen lasagnas here (well, unless mom just had a baby!). We are pros at garage sales, thrift stores, craigslist and freecycle. We garden. We do drive a huge behemoth, a fifteen passenger van that gets a horrible 14 miles per gallon BUT we pretty much drive it to only three places—the farmer’s markets, church and to buy animal feed. Anywhere else we take the smaller, older and more gas efficient Geo. But there had to be more to it then just being…well…cheap. Well, I concluded, it has to be something about spreading those carbon costs across our vast numbers. We are a household of 13, eleven children and two parents. Given that these eleven children are already here, and are here to stay, let’s say they were in average sized families. Let’s say 2 to a household with one household with three children. That makes it five families worth of children that we have. But we don’t have them in five homes, driving five families worth of cars (likely ten more cars on the road), buying five homes worth of electricity…we have compressed the resources that would usually be required for the average eleven individual children into one home. Economies of scale at work for the family.

So. I do agree that there is much work to be done around the globe regarding poverty and education. And I do think that we should all endeavor to be the best stewards that we can be of this incredible world with which we have been entrusted. I, however, cannot agree that simply by having eleven children we have created great harm to the world’s resources. In fact I have great hope that by having eleven children and by working hard to instill in them a respect for the world and for the people around the world that we have a pretty good chance of seeing the world changed in the next generation by eleven more families that are careful stewards. And that is pretty efficient and effective as well.

(Now to have a chat with those goats about those methane gasses...)

And on a lighter note…we just made 4 gallons of yogurt (vanilla bean) in the new pasteurizer turned yogurt vat and it was fantastic! I cannot WAIT to have enough milk to be able to bring it to market every week!!!


Anonymous said...

WOOHOO! I LOVED this post! LOL

Whitney said...

Great post LeeAnne!

Anonymous said...

But it doesn't mean your children will all live with light carbon footprints. That's what people are concerned about. They may be heavy consumers, which alters whatever you did for the very short period of their lives when they were children. They will live decades beyond their time in your home.

LeeAnne said...

Yes, but they will live for decades with the knowledge and understanding of being a wise steward of the world that they inherit. They will live with a lifestyle inculcated in them that makes careful use of their resources, that appreciates where their food, energy and belongings come from, a lifestyle that doesn't frivolously waste. It is simple to see it as just a 'numbers game' when in truth it is much more that simply numbers and that was the point of my post.