In an interesting yet ‘bah humbug’ kind of study, a group of scientists at the University of Leeds' School of Earth & Environment got together and calculated that Santa's carbon footprint from delivering Christmas gifts to the UK alone could be as high as 9 tons per stocking — 25 permits more than the average Brit emits in a year.
As part of the University's work with Yorkshire-based sustainability charity the United Bank of Carbon (UBC), the academics set out to highlight the possible environmental damage caused not only by Santa's sleigh and eight reindeer but the manufacturing of the presents themselves.
The team from Leeds estimated that, if Santa makes a single trip to deliver presents to the 7.7 million UK homes with just under two children per household, he would need to travel roughly 1.5 million km (~932,000 miles). Assuming Santa’s GHG emissions were the same as an airplane (which seems like a stretch), then bringing every child a stocking would emit 139 million tons of CO2, or 9 tons per stocking.
But since Santa’s sleigh is powered by flying reindeer rather than a jet engine, the UBC says the situation could be even more worrying – the methane produced by the reindeer’s bodily ‘emissions’ is over 20 times worse for climate than emissions of carbon dioxide (whoops). However, an environmentally aware and technologically savvy Santa may be able to capture some of the methane with specially designed reindeer backpacks and use it to aid sleigh flotation, so the academics threw Santa a bone and stuck with their estimate of 9 tons of CO2 per stocking.
To put these figures into perspective, the annual emission per person in the UK is roughly 7 tons, and the estimate for Santa is also high compared to the carbon footprint of manufacturing each gift (around 10 kg). Santa’s inefficient delivery method means that each stocking undergoes numerous short flights all over the country, travelling an average distance of over 18 times around the world before reaching each chimney. If, instead of traveling with Santa on numerous short flights, the stockings were to arrive direct from China on a container ship to a UK port and then to each of the homes by van, for instance, emissions would be reduced to roughly 800 grams of CO2 per stocking, making the footprints of the presents themselves the larger component. Determined to not give Santa a break, the researchers were sure to also account for the traditional satsuma in the bottom of each stocking, which adds another 100 grams of CO2.
While this is enough data to make Santa’s head spin (and hang in shame), researchers at Ethical Ocean came up with some figures of their own; luckily, they put them together in a festive infographic: