I’m taking much of this week off, as you should be doing, so all you’ll get is my annual geekify-something-about-Santa column:
Climate change has made a lot of things more problematic as we realize their contribution to global heating, and that includes flying. Which leads to the question: Should Santa be earthbound on Christmas Eve?
That depends, I think, on the carbon footprint of his trip. So let’s figure out how much Santa’s global jaunt adds to our climate woes.
In past Granite Geek columns I have calculated from the best available data supplemented by artificial intelligence and a whole bunch of wild guesses, that Santa travels at an average of 5.14 million mph on Chrismtas Eve night while carrying 250,000 tons of presents in his sleigh.
That requires 5 times 10 to the 15th power (i.e., 5,000,000,000,000,000) joules of kinetic energy, assuming I got my exponents right, which equals the energy contained in 30 million gallons of gasoline, about one-tenth of the annual gasoline consumption of the entire U.S. But that’s not all.
Santa can only spend one-5,000th of a second at each home and has to accelerate and decelerate from his maximum speed between each visit, so he consumes that energy 5,000 times every second. And he does this for 15 hours straight, following darkness around the globe to give him more time for visiting all the good little girls and boys.
This means that over the course of his extended Christmas Eve, Santa consumes the energy equivalent of 27 million times the amount of gasoline burned in the United States every year. Horrendous!
Ah, but wait; Santa has an out. He doesn’t burn fossil fuels!
His sleigh uses an octet – on foggy nights, when Rudolph’s in the lead, a nonet – of biofuel-powered aerial transportation modules. No gasoline is burned.
That power source doesn’t let Santa entirely off the eco-hook, however, since reindeer literally produce greenhouse gasses.
Reindeer are ruminants, which is a class of about 150 species of mammals including cows, sheep and goats that eat foods that contain cellulose, such as grasses. They break this food down in multiple stomachs, the first of which is called the rumen (hence “ruminant”).
The breakdown is done by bacteria that produce methane as a byproduct. That is the problem, since methane is 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. Each day, full-grown ruminants release 250 to 500 liters of methane via belching.
Don’t laugh; this is serious. Domestic cattle release as much as 2 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions from their digestive system, and scientists say that one of the major ways you and I can reduce our carbon footprint is by eating less beef.
Anyway, back to the calculation at hand. Using data gathered for cows, we estimate that each of Santa’s nine full-grown reindeer produce the ruminant maximum of 500 liters of methane daily, or one-tenth of a metric ton of carbon, which is the amount of carbon released by 116 gallons of gasoline.
Ergo, the nine reindeer together produce as much carbon as a car using 1,044 gallons of gas.
The average American drives 15,000 miles a year in a 25 mpg car, consuming 600 gallons of gas annually.
So, to conclude, Santa’s reindeer team generates as much greenhouse gas during Christmas Eve as a one and two-thirds average American drivers use over the course of a year.
Considering what they accomplish in that time, this is pretty darn good. So keep on doing what you do, Santa – no flight-shaming for you.