Stockings full of carbon


One of the great things about the holiday season are the TV Christmas specials that replay from our youth; classics like Home Alone, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and the many takes on A Christmas Carol. But this year was a little different. This year we saw the Family Guy Christmas special, “Road to the North Pole.”

In this episode, Stewie and Brian travel to the North Pole; however, they don’t go for the usual feel-good reasons a kid might want to visit Santa, such as playing with elves, feeding Rudolph or scratching someone’s name off the naughty list. Instead, this year, Stewie had a mission to kill Santa. But as Stewie got to know Ol’ Kris Kringle better, he also learned just how hard Christmas is on Santa, and how hard Christmas can be on families.

What intrigued me most about this episode was how the Family Guy creators depicted the North Pole. There was not a hint of cute snowmen, candy canes, or colour-matched decorations like we see at our neighbourhood Tim Horton’s. Instead, we saw crumbling buildings surrounded by toxic lakes, elves deformed from decades of inbreeding due to the need to match the increase in global toy demand, and the sky polluted with black smog from the gigantic smoke stacks that rose hundreds of feet above the toy factory. The North Pole had transformed into an environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

So we started wondering – how big of a polluter would Santa really be? How much carbon emissions would Santa be pumping into the North Pole to produce enough toys for every child in the world? Honestly, the man would have to produce all kinds of toys and gizmos – it could not 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 we can still use the colour green to market Christmas. Coincidentally, and in the holiday spirit, we have 12 of them:

1. According to the United Nations, there are 2.2 billion children in the world.
2. Although boys and girls at different ages would receive different gifts, the cost to produce “an average large gift,” for instance a Lego set or a Barbie doll set would be marginally similar – lets say $5.
3. We looked at Hasbro, a leader in toy manufacturing and a company aggressively seeking environmental sustainable practices, and calculated how much carbon emissions are produced per 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 1 large average gift per child.
6. Santa will give 2 stocking stuffers per child.
7. The average stocking stuffer takes one quarter the energy to produce as the average toy.
8. Because Santa gives gifts to those that are nice and coal to those that are naughty, and we figure that Santa is pretty lenient and judges most to be nice, we only assumed that one per cent of children would be deemed naughty – about 22 million children.
9. A lump of coal per each naughty child is equal to the size of a baseball – about 145 grams.
10. Because Santa resides near the North Pole on ice, he has to import coal mined 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 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 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 this little experiment? For one, Santa pollutes a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but he does so to meet our excessive wants for gifts. 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 just simply represented by the price on the tag; there is a larger price, a price to our environment. As Family Guy showed this holiday – and we can’t believe we are taking advice from Family Guy – this want can mean a price to all of the families, pressured to spend more and more to feed our greed.

We hope you had a happy holiday.

Nick Dube and Keenan George

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