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Are You Better for the Environment if You’re Tall or Short?

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is increasing the space between rows of seats on its planes. I’m not surprised — the Dutch are the tallest people on earth these days, as I discovered when I had to crane my neck around the Brobdingnagians in front of me in an Amsterdam movie theater.

Like many Europeans, the Dutch are also very concerned about the environment. As the KLM example illustrates, though, the good nutrition that makes them (and other Northern Europeans) so tall imposes negative externalities on the environment: Fewer Dutchmen per plane flight means more fuel consumed per passenger, and more pollution. The higher weight that goes with extra height requires more calories to maintain, generating more pollution to produce the tall person’s food.

So maybe we Americans are doing our part for the environment by being relatively short. Now if we could also reduce our weight, so that we consume fewer calories (the average American adult is officially classified as overweight, and 30 percent of Americans are classified as obese), we could actually contribute to environmental protection in a way that the tall Europeans cannot!