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Raising a Zero Footprint Baby

Raising a Zero Footprint Baby

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When
Keya Chatterjee and her husband Andrew Kravetz decided to have a child, they
knew it would test their commitment to sustainable living. Although they had
installed solar panels on their home, lowered their energy use, and purchased
only recycled or used items, they recognized that having a child
would dramatically increase their carbon footprint
if they didn’t
take action.

As
Director
of Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach at World Wildlife Fund, Keya also
knew that climate change would have a big impact on her child’s future. With
runaway greenhouse gas emissions causing things like more severe storms, rising
seas, wildfires, and drought, many parents are understandably anxious about the
world their children will grow up in.

That’s
why Keya decided to raise her son with as little environmental impact as
possible. She recently published her experiences in a new book, The
Zero Footprint Baby: How to Save the Planet While Raising a Healthy Baby
, and answered
some questions about her experiences for us.

 

EarthShare:
What will readers learn from your new book The Zero Footprint Baby?

Keya
Chatterjee: Parents who care about climate change will learn both
how climate change will affect their babies and what the most
relevant things are that they can do about it during pregnancy and the first
year.

Some
of my favorite little factoids that I discovered were
about the carbon footprint of breastfeeding and diapering. It
turns out that there is an enormous difference in your carbon footprint if you
breastfeed with your extra 500 calories from lamb vs breastfeeding
with your extra 500 calories from lentils.  It also turns out that cloth
diapers have about the same carbon footprint as disposable diapers unless you
line dry the diapers.

 

Why
is it important to raise children sustainably?

I
consider tackling climate change to be my responsibility as a parent. 
Advocacy and sustainable living are as important to me as making sure my son
doesn't run into the street or fall into a pool.  I do it to protect my
son.  And it's not just me — parents have more at stake than anyone else
in society.  It is our kids who will grow up in the era of climate
change.  By showing an example of sustainable living, and sustainable
advocacy, we can reduce opposition to policies that will enable the transition
off of the fossil fuels that are causing climate change.

 

How
has your approach changed now that your son is a toddler?

Some
sustainable actions are even more fun with a toddler!  My son
can now help with the compost and recycling, which is fun for him.  He
particularly likes the worms in the compost.  Some things are also a
little more challenging.  We never even looked for used baby clothes, they
just showed up in our house.  We generally have to ask our friends for
used toddler clothes, because toddler clothes are used for longer and people
are a little more reluctant to give away clothes that look a little used.

 


ZeroFootprintSome
people think of sustainability as “giving things up”. What have you gained
through this experience?

Well,
we have gained the gleeful feeling I get when our meter is running backwards
thanks to our solar panels! 

We
also definitely have a richer life because we get out of the house more than we
used to.  We don't use much heat or air conditioning and that means we
spend more time experiencing Washington, DC, where we live, as well as more
time in nature at Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo.  We are also
healthier because we bike to get around and walk a lot more than we did when we
had a car.

On
a more baby-specific note, by not using diapers when we were home for the first
year, we avoided a lot of messy poop clean ups, since the poop usually went
straight into the potty (sadly, we did not avoid all poop clean ups!).

 

Among
environmental issues, population is arguably the most controversial. How do we
talk about population’s impact on the planet without turning people off?

Yes,
it's not considered polite to tell new parents that babies are not great for
the planet, so I definitely would not suggest that way of communicating! 
I think that Hans Rosling actually does an
excellent job of explaining the challenge
of population and putting it
into the context of global poverty. After all, it's not population alone
that affects the environment; it's the number of people times their consumption
equals our impact on the planet.

Right
now it would take one and half planets for the rate of our consumption to be
sustainable.  We don't have 1.5 planets so we are drawing down resources
that will be impossible to recover. That's not just because of the number of
people, but also because we are being too slow in adopting technologies that
would reduce our pollution — like solar panels.

 

You
also deal with climate change in your professional life as Director of
Renewable Energy and Footprint Outreach at World Wildlife Fund. What are you
working on now?
 

I'm
working on launching a renewable energy campaign focused on helping cities
transition to 100% renewable energy
and inspiring home owners to install
solar panels.  Many people don't realize how cheap and easy solar panels
have become.  In over fifteen
states
,
you can install solar with zero money down, and save money immediately. Solar
panels have come down in price by 80% just since 2008.  Just imagine if a
t-shirt at the Gap were 75% off, once people knew about the sale, it'd probably
fly off the racks!

 

How
have other parents responded to your book?
 

It's
a very practical book, so I've had lots of people thank me for specific tips –
particularly around feeding, cloth diapering, and not using diapers. 
I have friends who now give away the book at every baby shower they go to,
which is very sweet of them.

 

If you had to pick just one change, what would
you suggest parents do to lower their family’s carbon footprint?

Well,
if they are homeowners, then it would definitely be to install solar panels –
which are far cheaper than people realize, and even free in many cases. 
New parents are so busy that it's important to take actions that automate
pollution reduction.  Realistically a new parent operating on three hours
of sleep is not going to be able to think about even little things like turning
out lights, so it's best to install LED bulbs, low-flow shower heads, efficient
appliances and solar panels — so that you'll be in the environmental vanguard
even if you are so exhausted that you accidentally fall asleep with the lights
on and appliances running.

 

And
what can political and business leaders do to make it easier for parents to
raise zero footprint babies?

Politicians
are making it harder than it needs to be for parents by not passing any of the
dozens of policy interventions that effectively tackle pollution. 
One of the many available policies is to substitute income taxes for
carbon taxes, and use some of the revenue to help the least among us make a
transition to renewable energy.  Another is to strictly regulate sources
of carbon pollution like power plants.  And yet another would be to
incentivize renewable energy instead of subsidizing fossil fuels.  There
are literally dozens of other effective policies they could pursue if there was
enough pressure from voters.

 

To learn more
about what you can do to fight climate change and protect future generations,
visit our
Climate Change Issues page or encourage your town to join the WWF Earth Hour City Challenge. Keya’s book is available for purchase from IG
publishing
.


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