Saving the Planet One Child at a Time? (Shantel Beckwith)


I’ve been stepping out of my mommy boundary zones a lot lately by being more intentional in my quest to meet other mothers in my community. There have been many a dance play group, coffee shop story time and even a Spanish conversation group to speak of. Playgroups can be a little awkward, but they tend to go the same way. A bunch of women and men gather with their children, we keep one eye on our kids whilst at the same time scanning the room for potentially friendly adults that we might spark a much needed peer-to-peer conversation with. After I make my initial approach on a parent (a little creepy I know), I make a kind remark about their child, and then after their admiring of my awesome 2 year old, the questions “Is she your only one?” and “How many do you want?” are natural for most strangers to fall into. I recently became aware that I must be some sort of oddity among the Portland mothering community because after answering “yes” to the first question, I tell them that somewhere in the range of 6-10 kids is what I’m aiming for, and if I overshoot that’s alright with me. Then come the stares…I’ve seen them before and they tend to look like this:


And while I can’t be too sure of what that that look actually means, I can take my guesses that “Oh my God! Does she have no respect for herself or the environment? She is going to singlehandedly take down the planet with a brood like that!” isn’t far from the truth. I’d venture to guess that other mothers who either have large families or aspire to have large families in Portland will have been all too familiar with this reaction. What does all of this tension come down to? I think that it has much to do with the recent obsession with the carbon footprint. So, what is it? By definition it is the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc. By this definition it would only serve to reason that having more kids means that you will have a larger negative effect on the planet.

Recent articles such as “Having Children Bring High Carbon Impact” (Galbraith), which was recently run in the New York Times, have been on the forefront of the argument as to why not to have lots of children. The problem with these articles in my opinion is that they place far too much power and responsibility on the heads of the children that are being born as opposed to placing the responsibility on the heads of the family who are primarily responsible for making choices to impact the environment in a positive or negative manner. As I’ve thought about having more children I’ve also asked myself this question: Is there any way for my family and other families to live well with their brood of children while also greatly lessening their environmental impact? After much contemplation of this question, I would venture to say that the answer is a firm “YES!”

I would like to offer up 3 ways that you and your family can start to tangibly and dramatically reduce your carbon footprint and will start you on your way to a sustainable lifestyle.

1. Reconsider your transportation choices

As a Portlander, I have recently been realizing that I very rarely get outside Portland city limits unless it comes time for us to drop in and see grandma and grandpa. If you live in the city, I believe that the best investment you can make to lessen your families’ impact on the environment is to go to your local bike shop, or to search your local Craigslist ads and buy a bicycle! You may be questioning: “Well aren’t you talking about how to have a BIG family and live sustainably? You can’t tote lots of kids on a single bicycle!” Well, I beg to differ! For a family with two kids or less the Yuba Mundo is a wonderful addition to the family with its long back deck and sturdy frame that is built to carry large amounts of weight (it is the bike I currently ride).


Check it out here:


For those with more than two children, I would like to introduce you to the amazing Portland mom Emily Finch. Emily is a mama to 6 kids, and since having ditched her Suburban some time back, she totes all of them by bicycle EVERYWHERE she goes around the city (is that not cool or what?!). Emily uses what’s called a bakfiet on the front of her Dutch style bike which is essentially a large and sturdy box. The bakfiet has enough room to carry four of her children, while she totes one behind her and on attached to her rear wheel on their own little bike. here is the link to her story:


Those that are living in suburbs as opposed to cities, according to UC Berkeley (Sanders), have a much higher percentage of carbon emissions than those that are living in cities. The most important transportation modification that you can make in the suburbs to lessen your carbon emissions is to drive a fuel efficient vehicle, but I understand that the cost of driving a fuel efficient vehicle can be a great investment for a large family, and that is why I offer my next piece of advice: plan your trips well so that you are able to drive less. Need to shop for groceries? Why not make a menu for the whole month to shop for all of your supplies? When you get home, put your excess in the deep freezer to store for later. While you’re out shopping for groceries, check your mail, go to the dentist, and buy clothes for your kids at the store. It doesn’t matter what errands your running, but planning to run them on the same day will save you loads of gas (thus reducing your carbon footprint) and travel time. AND you will have saved many precious drops of your energy by only having one stressful day in your entire week (I know, errands with kids is NOT easy).

2. Become aware of where your food comes from

I am a mother of one in Portland who is in school to become a nurse midwife; my husband is a musician and I stay at home. As you can probably imagine, collectively, my husband and I make enough money to be considered below the poverty line. We have, even in our food stamp earning status, made a commitment to shopping locally for our produce and meat. Why shop local? Well, simply put, the closer to home that you can find your produce and meat, and the rest of what you eat, the less gas you are using to have a large truck pull it here from faraway places (According to, food travels 1,500 miles from farm to consumer on average! That’s a lot of gas!) (Worldwatch). Not only that, but food that is local and in season tastes AMAZING! Just last week, I took my daughter out to Sauvie Island and picked so many strawberries I had a hard time storing them in my freezer. The cost of all of these organic, local grown strawberries came to a whopping 10 dollars, which was much less than I would have paid for them in a grocery store. What I’m trying to hit at is that shopping local does NOT have to equal more money spent! If you don’t have time to go to an actual farm and pick yourself, stop by your local farmers market and purchase there!

I am aware that there are more and more farmers’ markets emerging even in suburban areas, so besides shopping at these markets with your family, one of the most important ways a suburban family can reduce their carbon footprint is to eat less meat or purchase meats directly from a trusted farmer. Not only does the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide, 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water is needed for each pound of beef (Why). Because of this fact (and for health reasons of course), I recommend that a large family limits its meat intake to once a week. If you do have a large family and want to eat meat, buy your cows for beef once a year from a local organic farmer and store the meat in a deep freezer to be used the whole year. Want chicken? Consider building a coop and raising them in your backyard.

3. Get your big family involved in the community

When my daughter was just 2 months old I put her in a sling and went to Mt. Tabor Park to participate in a park clean up day. Why? Well, for one I love that park. a few days out of each week you can catch me there with the toddler making use of everything it has to offer, and for me volunteering is my payment back to that beautiful outdoor space. Another reason I volunteered is because I want my children to become used to the idea of giving back to nature that which they have taken from it. There are tons of ways to get your family out into the community to reduce environmental impact and they are the same for the city and suburban areas: Start a community garden, organize your own community clean up with your children, If you’re going to drive your kids to school and have a large car pick up your neighbors kids as well (or just let them bike or ride the bus), lastly visit and learn about the environmental issues in your community and how you can address them.

The thing about this list is that it is just the beginning! There are so many ways to lessen your large family’s carbon footprint (recycling everything another huge aspect that I didn’t mention here). instead of listening to all of the naysayers who look at you skeptically when they hear of you considering having more children, know this: having children has prepared you by building in yourself the creativity you need to find ways to live sustainably. The road to sustainability as a family is a fun one if you get everyone involved! Cheers and good luck!


Culminating Project

Research Question: Can our “carbon footprint” be lessened in the face of growing families?

I chose this research question because lessening my environmental impact is something that I have been thinking about practically in my own life. In considering the expansion of my family I have been wondering if it is possible to put more resources back into the planet than I have taken, and while I have been considering it, I do not know much about sustainability and would like to know more myself and educate readers on what I have found. Through my volunteer hours with the WRC and through meeting and talking with other mothers on campus, I feel there is a huge desire to find ways to save money and live well when you have kids to raise. I want my research paper to give people some practical ideas on how to approach the subject of sustainability in their own lives.

Research Collection and Annotations:

1) Sanders, Robert. “When It Comes to Carbon Footprints, Location and Lifestyle Matter.” UC Berkeley NewsCenter. UC Berkeley, 13 Apr. 2012. Web. 31 May 2014. <;.

I found this article to be interesting because it not only looks at saving energy as a way to lessen your carbon footprint, but also realizes that your carbon footprint has a lot to do with what part of the country you live and also where you live in relation to cities. This article gives helpful information for both the city dweller and those living in rural areas on how to lessen their environmental impact. I have started researching some of the points they’ve listed here for insertion in to my own paper

2) Miller, DJ. “Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Your Large Family.” Sustainablog. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 May 2014. <;.

This article caught my eye because having a big family is something I see in my own future and also because I would like to answer the questions of sustainability by focusing on extremes to solidify my point even further. This blog is a treasure trove of information on how you can live well and also live consciously. This article in general offers a few ideas for how a large family can use their resources well and I would like to use this article to ask how this might be done for families living in the Portland area.

3) Petru, Alexis. “Meet the Zero Waste Family.” Earth911com. N.p., 13 Apr. 2011. Web. 31 May 2014. <;.

The family that is talked about in this article completely blows my mind because they have only produced a literal handful of trash over the course of a few months when the average American family throws out 1,000 pounds of garbage per year. When you hear a number like that it makes it very clear that the people in this country need a practical education on how to do things differently. This article was one of the first to get me excited about the idea of sustainability, and it will have you questioning everything you’re doing in your home, especially in the kitchen. What I like most about this article is that it attacks head on some commonly held misconceptions on what living a zero waste life could mean.


Works Cited

Galbraith, Kate. “Having Children Brings High Carbon Impact.” Green Having Children Brings High Carbon Impact Comments. The New York Times, 07 Aug. 2009. Web. 10 June 2014.

Maus, Jonathan. “With Six Kids and No Car, This Mom Does It All by Bike –” N.p., 28 June 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.

“Protect the Environment: In Your Community.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 10 June 2014.

Sanders, Robert. “Suburban Sprawl Cancels Carbon-footprint Savings of Dense Urban Cores.” UC Berkeley NewsCenter. N.p., 06 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 June 2014.

“Why Meatless? – Meatless Monday.” Meatless Monday. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2014.

Worldwatch Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2014

“Yuba Mundo V4.3 Cargo Bike, Orange.” Clevercycles Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2014.



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