Paul Murtaugh


Paul Murtagh

Paul Murtaugh is an Emeritus Professor in the Statistics Departement at the University of Oregon.

In “Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals,” [PDF] statistician Paul Murtaugh and others from Oregon State University argued that a person’s reproductive choices must be considered together with his or her everyday activities to work out that person’s impact on the global environment.

In their 2009 paper, Murtaugh et al proposed a mechanism to quantify the consequences of the childbearing decisions of an individual.

Their premise is that a person is responsible for the carbon emissions of his or her descendants — each parent is responsible for half of the emissions of their children and a quarter of the emissions of their grandchildren, and so on.

Under this scheme, the consequences of reproduction have a huge impact on an individual’s long-term carbon legacy. The potential savings from reduced reproduction are dramatic compared to that achievable by lifestyle changes.

The authors found, for example, that a woman living in the United States who implemented certain lifestyle changes over the course of her life — including increasing car fuel economy, reducing driving distances, replacing old windows, light bulbs and refrigerators with energy-efficient models, and recycling — would save approximately 486 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

By having two children however, that same woman would contribute almost 40 times more carbon dioxide to the air.

Put another way:

[w]hen we set the size of our families, we are, each in our own small way, determining how the world of the future will look. And we’re doing this not just for ourselves and our own children; we’re doing it for everyone else’s children, too.

SQSwans Paul Murtaugh Reports.