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What the Tech: How eco-friendly is Santa’s sleigh?

Now that we’re more careful than ever about our emissions, it’s time to take a closer look at Father Christmas’ carbon footprint.

Nobody wants to criticise someone who is doing a good thing. Whether it’s taking the mick out of a tacky charity single or giving MasterChef-style commentary on children’s home-baked cupcakes, you always come out of the affair looking worse for it, however right you are. Trust me, I’ve been there. And I was correct on both occasions. 

My bitter burden of being right literally all the time, twinned with having the social skills and decorum of a bad-tempered housecat, has given me the necessary mettle to set my sights set on the jolliest, friendliest man in the world: Santa Claus.

Can you imagine a more selfless man who, without complaint, has worked the night shift every single Christmas on record just for the token gift of a glass of milk and a cookie or two from each household? Yet as he zooms across the sky, he’s leaving a carbon footprint to be reckoned with, and that’s why — full of righteous indignation — I am going to turn over the tables and find out exactly how naughty or nice Santa Claus really is.

Now before I get started, it’s important to mention that this rambling thesis almost certainly isn’t how the maths works in any way shape or form, but fortunately all the important people are on their day off and cannot veto this ill-judged character assassination on the grounds of either good taste or bad sums. Mere trifling things like the laws of physics or basic human decency will not stop me from slandering Santa, no siree.

Firstly, we’ll take the scale of his task into account. Having to visit every single child in the entire world in the course of just one day is no simple thing, and according to one unimpeachable authority on the matter (the website Fun Kids, to be precise), in cold hard numbers Santa must travel ten million kilometres in 36 hours, moving at an average speed of 77 kilometres per second (or 3,000 times the speed of sound.)

How exactly does the big man travel such an incredible distance at such fantastic speed? Nine magical flying reindeer of course, who go by the names of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph (the latter of whom is a show pony par excellence — don’t even get me started on him.) It’s an unusual way to get around for sure, but then Santa does do an unusual job, to put it mildly.

A normal reindeer apparently consumes approximately 9kg of vegetation per day and can travel at a maximum speed of 80km/h. Multiplying the tonnage of plant matter by the increased speed required, and we reach the colossal sum of 283,500 kg of vegetation required to feed all nine of the reindeer, the harvesting of which would surely leave Lapland like some kind of frostbitten version of Mad Max’s Wasteland.

Once eaten, the problems don’t stop there. The University of Tromsø reports that lichen-fed reindeer emit 7.3g per day of methane. Multiplying that by our previous estimates give us 285kg of methane emitted; terrible news for the environment and anyone with a functioning sense of smell.

These increasingly crazed calculations don’t even include the weight of each present. There are 2.2 billion children on Earth, so assuming that each child from Kenya to Canada receives the same size present (after all, it’s not like a wealthy old white man could possibly be racist), and guessing that present to weigh approximately 3.9kg (the weight of a new PS5), the contents of the sleigh would clock in at around 8.5 billion kg. 

While there seems to be no equivalent electric vehicle that Santa could take instead of his fleet of reindeer, seeing as the nippiest electric plane is a tiny little thing that can only manage 623 km/h, it would seem that he has no eco-friendly alternative.

However, do not despair on the very Eve of the big occasion: I have a solution. I don’t expect it to be popular; but then I’m not here sitting behind my desk on Christmas Eve to take the easy decisions. No no, this proposal will pit the generations against each other, and must require the maximum secrecy possible.

Hear me out; why don’t we give Santa the day off, let parents buy their children presents, and just lie to them them it was Santa anyway? This solution would be considerably more environmentally friendly, Father Christmas would get a well-deserved lie-in — and the best bit is that the parents could even keep the milk and cookies for themselves. This festive season I simply leave you with the following lesson: lying to children can be good for the environment. Merry Christmas.