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Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa

Eco-parenting in South Africa

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Having children is bad for the environment. A new study found that by far the most effective action a person can do to reduce their carbon emissions is to have fewer children. Having one fewer child equates to a reduction of 58.6 tonnes of CO2 for each year of a parent’s life. Other actions are very important to reduce CO2 but the impacts are considerably less. For example, living car free is the next best action and this saves 2.4 tonnes of CO2 annually. Avoiding one roundtrip transatlantic flight saves 1.60 tonnes of CO2. Reducing CO2 emissions is absolutely essential to avoid severe global warming and all of our individual lifestyle choices, from how we dry our clothes to whether we reproduce, contribute.

I have been aware that having children is bad for the environment for a long time. It seems fairly obvious if you think about the maths. There are already more humans alive than the planet can sustain and the human population is rising at a scary 10,000 net per hour. Children who have highly consumptive lifestyles like many born in America, Europe, and Australia use up far more resources than the majority of children in less developed countries. It is not just about having less people on the planet; it’s also about living more sustainably and passing this lifestyle onto the next generation.

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Haubles of people at the Loi Krathong festival in Bangkok, November 2011

We wanted a family (well I was ready and I gently pestered Sam till he said okay – isn’t that how having a baby works?). As environmentalists, we decided that the way forward for us is to have a small family and to try to reduce our environmental impact. Eco-parenting is also a way to reduce the financial costs of having a child. That was a much appreciated bonus since conservation biologists tend to line their pockets with fresh faecal samples, not cash. After the baby, we were carrying leopard, hyaena, and human poo samples around which felt a bit excessive. Oh, how we hoped the sample bags / nappies were properly secured.

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Wee Noggs

We started our eco-parenting quest with cloth nappies, reusable cloth wet wipes, and biodegradable nappy liners. I remember seeing a picture like this showing how much waste disposable nappies create for just one child and being horrified.

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Disposable nappies take up to 500 years to decompose. I hated the idea that a giant pile of pooey stinky rubbish from our child would be around long long after his lifetime. What a legacy.

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Cloth nappies have been a good experience for us. We had to adapt at first because when Noggs was born we lived in a tent with almost no power. The tent was upgraded and we made a plan to get the nappies clean. We have enjoyed cloth nappies, aside from a few instances of nappy rash that we think were associated with using cloth nappies in a hot country and childcare workers sometimes not changing the cloth nappies as often as we do at home. It has been great knowing that we made less of an impact on the environment. We used disposables when traveling for convenience or if we were ever particularly worried about nappy rash. Now Noggs is pretty much potty trained, we will be thinking about selling our cloth nappy collection soon. It is satisfying to think that we will get some money back. It is like getting a reward for surviving potty training. Congrats, you wiped up enough wee wee and poo poo, here is some money.

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Opening up our box of cloth nappies and cloth wet wipes

If anyone feels nervous or unsure about the decision to use cloth nappies, I would definitely say go for it. Ask me if you want advice. Yes, it is a bit more work but not much, and it is worth it for the environment and for your wallet.

We also personally tried to buy almost everything for Noggs as a baby secondhand. Less impact. His second hand cot was a tad rickety as a result but it lasted. All the toys and clothes he grows out of are passed on to someone else who can reuse them. We made all of Noggs’ baby food ourselves which was more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and probably healthier. Less food miles and less packaging. We try not to buy juice boxes or disposable water bottles. We refill reusable cups and bottles all the time. We have started deliberately consuming less meat. Quorn is awesome by the way. I’m not sure I could fully give up babalas droewors (South African dried sausage-like snacks infused with chili) though. Living abroad makes stopping international air travel difficult but we don’t fly very often.

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Beautiful wooden secondhand high chair Noggs received from a friend of ours

Hopefully, planning a small family and implementing more environmental childrearing choices are reducing our carbon footprint. That way I can save my guilt for other things like occasionally binging on too much droewors.

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Babalas droewors

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Some of the South African delicacies we had at our wedding

Here are some links on eco-parenting and cloth nappying:

Eco-friendly parenting

10 tips for green parenting

How to be an eco-parent

Growing up green

Cloth nappying

What are modern cloth nappies?

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2 thoughts on “Eco-parenting in South Africa

  1. You were brought into this world with the agreement between you mother and I many years ago.. we wanted only two children to replace us.. We were so lucky to have a male and female offspring. Your parents were both Environmentalists way before it was in vogue. We both were so very proud when you turned your efforts and education towards the Environment and to marry Sam who also respected the animals in our environment.. love you all so much… I am embarrassed that I hold a US Passport… we have dropped back at least 50 years with the jerk who does not think we humans are impacting the global environment. What a dump shit….

  2. Thanks for the lovely comment!

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