In July 2017, ScienceMag reported on a study:

Eating no meat cuts an individual’s carbon footprint by 820 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year [...] by choosing to have one fewer child in their family, a person would trim their carbon footprint by a whopping 58.6 metric tons

http://carbonindependent.org/22.html gives

1/4 tonne CO2 equivalent per hour flying.

Are these figures accurate?

  • There seems to be two different claims challenged in the question, one about children and one about flying. You should rather pick one of them and propose the other one in another question.
    – Evargalo
    Jul 8, 2019 at 12:36
  • Aren't you comparing oranges to apples? If you assume your life expectancy is X years and sum not eating meat for the rest of your life, the two figures aren't that different if you're in your early 20s. Jul 10, 2019 at 13:47
  • Philippe van Basshuysen and Eric Brandstedt published on 26 March 2018 iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aab213 "we have argued that the attribution of responsibility Wynes and Nicholas invoke involves a kind of multiple counting which runs counter to the objectives of the study."
    – Gnubie
    Oct 21, 2021 at 20:53

2 Answers 2


To come up with the emission per child, the original source Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals Global Environmental Change Volume 19, Issue 1, February 2009, pages 14-20, is considering an infinite series.

In other words, having one child results in all the lifetime emission of said child, plus all that child's descendants' emissions. Since each child usually has two biological parents, 4 grandparents, etc., to avoid double counting, the reference weights descendants' emissions by 0.5^n, where "n" is the number of generations into the future. For example n=1 for children, n=2 for grandchildren, etc.

This infinite series is potentially divergent, if fertility rates are above 2. So the reference assumes that the fertility rate will drop to 1.85 everywhere in the world by 2050, permitting the series to be convergent.

  • Thanks, @DavePhD. Is that per parent? E.g. if my partner and I both have a child, would both of us incur the 58.6 tonnes?
    – Gnubie
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:42
  • @Gnubie Yes, 58.6 tons per year for the mother and another 58.6 tons per year for the father according to the journal article associated with the original question iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541/…, which cites to the source in this answer.
    – DavePhD
    Jun 13, 2019 at 15:46
  • 1
    @Evargalo the sum is much more than 58.6 tons. "Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female". So by dividing by the initial person's lifetime, it is annualized. (plus there are two parents each half-responsible and each country is different)
    – DavePhD
    Jul 8, 2019 at 14:03
  • 1
    What do you mean "usually has two biological parents". Isn't that a hard requirement? Even with artificial insemination, there is still a donor that existed. We don't yet have artificial sperm or a uterus, and I don't believe there are cases of hermaphrodites self-impregnating.
    – Brian R
    Jul 8, 2019 at 16:20
  • 1
    @BrianR nature.com/news/…
    – DavePhD
    Jul 8, 2019 at 16:56

The answer is yes, using world average variables and a mandatory time frame of 71 years, one's average lifetime, fertility 2.4, carbon footprint 4, 1st birth at 26):

104 people need to go vegetarian to lesser carbon emissions by 837 which is the additional emission of 1 child, including her child, all non vegetarian, over 71 years. Average values used, calculations have been done but deleted by the moderator(Sklivvz).

The above assumes that child and all ancestors up to 71 years forward will not be vegetarians. If all are, footprint drops to 558 and 69 people need to go vegetarian, which is as close to 71 as statistical mistake.

Sources used: Initial quastion's https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/07/best-way-reduce-your-carbon-footprint-one-government-isn-t-telling-you-about

Carbon footprint calculator: https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

Average fertility 2018 https://www.google.com/search?q=world+average+fertility+rate+2018&rlz=1C1GGRV_enGR751GR751&oq=wolrds+average+fert&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0l5.6879j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Average 1st birth age https://www.google.com/search?q=world+average+birth+age&rlz=1C1GGRV_enGR751GR751&oq=world+average+birth+age&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.24046j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Vegetarian less footprint https://www.vox.com/2014/7/2/5865109/study-going-vegetarian-could-cut-your-food-carbon-footprint-in-half

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .