Thursday, January 31, 2008

Greener by the Dozen?

Someone asked me the other day how someone as environmentally conscious as me ends up with eight kids.

In my defense, I married into four of them. I didn't actually plan the other four; in fact, I planned against them with the most foolproof methods offered by modern science. I have several friends who have very large and very green families, so I don't have a ready answer as to how I ended up with one or whether I feel it is some sort of hypocrisy.

Consider the following two families, one based on mine and the other on a good friend of mine's:

Family A is a Green Party-voting family that contributes to excellent social causes and has just one child--they are NPG advocates.

Family B is all over the place in political ideology and favored causes. They have a blended family of eight children, three grown and five in the home.

Family A is the obvious winner of the Green Award, unless you look deeper.

Family A has a larger home than Family B. They keep it colder in the summer, and warmer in the winter. They don't economize as much--they don't have to. They eat more meat, more packaged foods, drive a larger car. As a group, they use more electric in their home and more fuel in their vehicle.

Family B is stringent when it comes to conserving everything from gas to ziplocs. They buy everything used except food. They might be tempted to be more wasteful if they could afford it, but they can't. They earn the same amount as Family A and have to make it work.

I think Family B wins.

For a visual example: say the average American family uses ten resource tokens a year. Large families get the same as small families--simple economic reality is that we do not earn more for every baby we have, not in a private economy at least. So the family of three is using 3.3 tokens per capita, while the family of seven is using 1.43. Family B is not using more resources; they are simply more conservative in the use of their tokens. They are a more efficient child raising unit.

I'm not saying that there are no other options. There could be a Family C--a couple with one child sharing a 700 sq. ft home, living on beans and the products of their garden, hanging out laundry and fitting comfortably into their Prius. They get the Green Award over Families A and B. But the reality is that most American and Western European families use most of the resource tokens we are allotted.