NICK DUBE / KEENAN GEORGE
One of the greatest things about the holiday season is the stream of TV Christmas specials that replay from our youth — classics like Home Alone, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and the many takes on A Christmas Carol, to name a few.
But this year was a little different. This year we saw the Family Guy Christmas special entitled “Road to the North Pole.” In this episode, Stewie and Brian travel to the North Pole. But they don’t go for the usual feel-good reasons a kid might expect — wanting to visit Old St. Nick, to play with elves or to feed Rudolph. Instead, Stewie was on a mission to kill Santa.
But as Stewie got to know Santa, he also learned how hard Christmas can be on the jolly old present-giver, and how hard Christmas can be on families.
What intrigued me about this episode was how the animators had chosen to depict the North Pole. There were none of the cute snowmen, candy canes or colour-matched decorations like we see at our neighbourhood Tim Hortons. Instead, we saw crumbling buildings surrounded by toxic lakes, elves deformed from decades of inbreeding and a sky polluted with black smog from gigantic smoke stacks towering hundreds of feet above the toy factory. The North Pole had been transformed into an environmentalist’s worst nightmare.
So we wondered to ourselves, how big of a polluter is Santa? Tasked with producing enough toys for every child in the world, how big is Santa’s carbon footprint? Honestly — the man has to produce all kinds of tech-toys and gizmos, and it can’t be easy. With this question in mind, we decided to do a little research.
Here is a list of the facts and assumptions that we made to see if green really is the most appropriate Christmas colour (coincidentally, and in the spirit of the holidays, there are 12 of them).
- 1) According to the United Nations, there are 2.2 billion children in the world.
- 2) Although boys and girls of different ages would receive different gifts, the cost to produce “an average gift” — for instance a Lego set or a Barbie doll set —would be marginally similar; lets say $5 per child.
- 3) We looked at Hasbro, a leader in toy manufacturing and a company aggressively seeking environmental sustainable practices, and calculated the carbon emissions produced by each toy.
- 4) Santa’s energy demand to power his factory is equal to the power demand that Hasbro requires to produce toys.
- 5) Santa will only be giving one average gift to each child.
- 6) Santa will give two stocking stuffers to each child.
- 7) The average stocking stuffer takes one quarter the energy to produce as the average toy.
- 8) Because Santa gives gifts to those who are nice and coal to those who are naughty (and we figure that Santa is pretty lenient and judges most to be nice) let’s assume that only one per cent of children would be deemed naughty — or about 22 million children.
- 9) The lump of coal given to each naughty child is roughly equal to the size of a baseball, or 145 grams.
- 10) Because Santa resides near the North Pole, he will have to import coal (possibly mined right here in Saskatchewan).
- 11) Santa’s elves, reindeer and other North Pole workers live and sleep in the factories, so their energy demands are calculated into the “average large toy.”
- 12) Santa relies on magic to travel the world, so besides eating a lot of gingerbread cookies, he does not require any energy, nor produce any greenhouse gas while delivering gifts.
When the calculations were all said and done, what we discovered was that Santa would emit 333 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents per year. This is equal to nine times the amount of CO2 produced by the Athabasca oil sands, 25 million metric tons more CO2 than the entire United States of America’s automotive fleet in 2004, or equal to all of Australia’s CO2 emissions in an entire year.
So what can be learned from these results? For one, Santa pollutes a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but does so to meet our insatiable want for material goods. Just take a look around: when Christmas season arrives, stores are full of people spending their hard-earned money to buy more and more gifts.The cost of those gifts is not simply represented by the price on the tag; there is a larger price, too — the price to our environment.