Batman’s carbon footprint is enormous. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, he’d be way better off using his money to pay for carbon offsets, rather than spending it on expensive gadgets.
Batman is a hero in the DC Universe and the alter-ego of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. He patrols Gotham City in his Batmobile and Batwing aircraft and uses a series of complex weapons to subdue criminals and supervillains alike.
Batman’s carbon footprint is tied directly to his impressive arsenal, so we’re going to break it down into individual components and calculate the carbon footprint of each item.
The Batsuit + Gadgets
All materials have a carbon footprint. It requires energy (which usually comes from burning fossil fuels) to dig up, construct, and transport the stuff we use. We don’t know for sure what Batman’s suit and gadgets are made out of, but there are hints in the comics and movies. So we can make some additional educated guesses based on similar, real-life objects.
Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins probably give us the clearest picture of what makes up the Batsuit. Many repeat film viewings plus extra details from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns comic provide a good guess at the suit’s materials:
Nomex and Kevlar make up the majority of the suit, protecting Batman from fire and bullets. The hard carbon-carbon composite protects Batman’s head and face while polyester woven over memory-shaped nitinol rods allow Batman to glide around on his cape. Add in some heavy-duty, steel-toed boots and some steel batarangs and we have a complete Batsuit with a carbon footprint of 9,084.3 lb CO2e
While this might look like a lot, it’s approximately the same as the carbon footprint of only 37 regular men’s suits.
Bonus: In the film Batman Begins, Alfred explicitly says that he and Bruce are going to build the Batsuit themselves, and that they’d need to order 10,000 cowl parts to avoid suspicion. If that’s really true, then the carbon footprint for the Batsuit becomes the same as that for 400 average Americans.
The carbon footprint of a car comes mostly from burning gasoline which releases a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And the Batmobile is going to have a pretty terrible footprint, because it shoots literal fire out the back.
While Batman drives a lot, he also spends a lot of time crouching on gargoyles, beating up criminals, and making badass silhouettes against the moon. Based on the driving statistics of NYC cab drivers, my conservative estimate is that Batman drives around 20,000 miles per year.
As for the Batmobile’s fuel efficiency, we’ll have to make some additional guesses. The Batmobile is probably a cross between a military vehicle and a high-end sportscar, like a heavily armored Bugatti Veyron. The Bugatti Veyron sportscar gets around 8 miles/gallon, which, coincidentally, is the same as the presidential limo. So we’ll go with that.
Now we have all we need to calculate the carbon footprint of driving the Batmobile around:
Batmobile = (20,000mi / 8 mi/gal) * 19.36 lbs-CO2e/gal = 48,400 lbs CO2e
Flying is generally worse than driving in terms of carbon footprints. And it gets even worse when the entire jet, like the Batwing, only holds one person. The Batwing is probably some sort of cross between the real-life F-117 Stealth Fighter and the Harrier Jump Jet, which can hover like a helicopter (note: while cool, this feature burns jet fuel at an alarming rate of 1 gallon every 2 seconds).
Making a few modest assumptions about flight time, we can calculate the carbon footprint of the Batwing in both flying mode and hover mode:
Let’s assume Batman flies around for 2 hours per adventure, 48 hours total per year. If Batman flies around 95% of the time and only uses hover mode 5% of the time, the total carbon footprint for flying the Batwing is:
Batwing = 1,719,461 lb CO2e
This is approximately the same amount of carbon released by an average person on a commercial flight traveling from New York City to San Francisco…344 times.
While the carbon footprints so far have ranged from “ugh” to “oh no,” we’re about to hit “BOING!” territory. The Batcomputer is a supercomputer that helps Batman solve crimes as the world’s greatest detective. It also uses an absurd amount of electricity.
One of the most powerful and reliable supercomputers in the world is the Japanese K computer, which draws 12.6 MW. This is a reasonable proxy for the Batcomputer. And let’s assume that Batman doesn’t need the computer running all day, just about 12 hours per day to help him solve mysteries about the toughest crimes…probably from the Riddler.
So now all we need is the source of the electricity. Gotham City was always a pretty good analog for Chicago. If we think that Bruce Wayne/Batman is using the public power grid, and that the electricity for Gotham comes from roughly the same sources as Chicago (lots of coal and nuclear), then the Batcomputer’s carbon footprint comes out to:
Batcomputer(Chicago) = 83,417,766 lbs CO2e
This is an astonishingly large number. It’s the carbon footprint of just under 2,000 average Americans.
I figured that Batman is a good guy and would do anything to save Gotham, including using alternative energy sources. But I wanted to check this with another comic-book-savvy friend of mine, which led to the following exchange:
Me: Batman is a superhero. He wants to save the planet. My guess is that he’s using all sorts of renewables to power his stuff.
Ryan: I think the main thing to remember about Batman is that he probably doesn’t give a sh*t about that. It’s all about the mission. He’d run the cave on a 100 gas generators if that’s what it took. He’s too single-minded in his obsession to think long term about things like renewables. Any renewable sources are probably coming from Lucius at Waynetech via Alfred.
Ok, fair enough, Ryan. But let’s still assume that Batman uses a combination of alternative energy sources: 50% nuclear, 20% hydroelectric, 20% wind, 5% solar, and 5% geothermal. Using the IPCC’s documented footprints of these alternative energy sources, Batman’s revised carbon footprint for using the Batcomputer becomes:
Batcomputer(alternative) = 3,733,468 lbs CO2e
Even though this is much lower, he’s still using enough energy that the Gotham Gas & Electric Company would likely pay Wayne a visit to see what the hell is going on.
Batman = 3,733,468(computer) + 1,719,461(batwing) + 48,400(batmobile) + 9,084(batsuit) + 285(batarangs) = 5,510,698 lbs CO2e
Setting aside the enormous carbon cost of being Batman, it’s also very expensive to be Batman – somewhere around $682,450,750. If Bruce Wayne, instead of being Batman, decided to buy carbon offsets using that money, he could offset 2,601,265 average Americans’ emissions. In a neat coincidence, this is approximately the same population of Chicago – our Gotham stand-in.