Science and Tech Editor


It looks like Santa is giving us climate change for Christmas this year.

The idea of flying around the world in one night sounds so fun, right? Imagine this: you’re on a magical sleigh, being pulled by a group of reindeer that worship you, and you’re bringing joy and happiness to millions, with the bonus of seeing your elf pals at the end of the night! That’s supposedly Santa’s reality every year, but most adults do not believe this to be true. It’s unlikely that Santa will be able to go into all those houses this year due to Covid anyway…

But what if it was true, and what would be the environmental impacts of his sleigh? Surely a trip to each child in the world in a flying sleigh would have some environmental impacts!

Assuming that Santa’s sleigh is fuelled in the same way that our planes are, Christmas Eve would be a very damaging day to the environment. Burning fuels for planes account for 2.5% of global carbon emissions, and this could rise to 22% by 2050 - his sleigh could be the reason for this increase! The flight from Lapland to Cape Town, for example, emits 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide, so imagine the emissions if he stopped everywhere in between. 

This also ignores the wastage caused by flying short distances. We can easily assume that Santa does not hop from Los Angeles to Moscow to Nairobi, and then all the way back to San Francisco. Using the NORAD Santa tracker (which is a very scientific piece of equipment) we can safely assume Santa visits houses nearby to each other. This suggests very short flight times. When planes have to land early or do emergency landings, they must release the fuel stored up to safely land but must have sufficient fuel levels for taking off. Unless Santa’s fuel tank is ridiculously small, he must be wasting copious amounts of fuel for these short journeys.

I think that Santa deserves a lump of coal for all these bad environmental actions!

But wait! We have ignored all the reindeer - maybe they help. Despite all the reindeer that I’ve seen never have wings or any ability to fly, we have always been told that they power the sleigh. Unfortunately, without a tall cliff, some weird floating device, or excessive power, I don’t think that the reindeer will help Santa’s case. In fact, the reindeer just made it worse - it has been proven that Santa’s team of reindeer would emit 40,600 tonnes of methane gas on his trip around the world. I don’t think Santa’s magic could even stop the farts of methane gas after all the carrots they’d be fed.

Don’t worry, though! Santa might not be giving us climate change for Christmas. There are some more eco-friendly ideas for his sleigh. A great upcoming invention is planes which are fuelled by renewable energy. The most common idea is solar-panelled planes, which especially make sense due to a plane’s proximity to the sun. This wouldn’t be so perfect for Santa as he is known for flying around in the darkness, but these new planes also store energy for nighttime trips. Not only can Santa be a bit more carbon-neutral using this version of a sleigh, but it means that those dreaded overnight flights will continue when flying becomes more eco-friendly!

However, all of this is assuming that Santa works just like a human, when we all know he is truly magical. We can’t just limit him to our mere human abilities. 

There are all sorts of magical suggestions for how Santa flies his sleigh. It may run on the hopes and dreams of children - I imagine this to be very similar to that wagon in Inside Out. There is also the darker idea of it running on the tears of the naughty children. However, if it was to be magical, there could be any suggestion! Unfortunately, we cannot explain magic.

My favourite idea for a carbon-neutral Santa’s sleigh is one which is half magical, but half-filled with amazing technology. I’d love for a sleigh that is decked out with the most up-to-date solar technology which powers the engine. Whilst it flies, there should be some turbines for a potential back-up on power. The presents would be stored in a compartment underneath where he sits and I might even give him a mini-fridge for all the food he collects. Unfortunately, I’d probably opt to get rid of the reindeer, but he could have a little dog for company if he needs it.

If Santa wanted to be carbon neutral, he should even get rid of the whole “coal-for-naughty-children” thing… it isn’t really sustainable.

Luckily (or unluckily) for us, it’s unlikely that Santa is going to visit us through our chimneys this winter, so we don’t have to worry too much about his carbon footprint. And if you’re wondering, he won’t be visiting due to Covid restrictions… he is most definitely real and would be coming any other year!


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