The 4 key personal actions to mitigate climate crisis...are not being emphasised by governments and schools strongly enough

Full graphic  here

Full graphic here

Sometimes, a report makes things helpfully and brutally clear on what we have to do, everyday, to reduce our contribution to climate crisis. Published back in 2017, this blog from Phys Org quotes a report (original paper here) that identifies the four main actions that can be taken by residents of “developed” countries, and the annual carbon savings implied by each:

  • living car-free (2.4 tonnes of CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year),

  • avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tonnes of CO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight)

  • eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tonnes of CO2e saved per year).

  • having one fewer child (58.6 tonnes of CO2e saved per year)

The authors add:

These actions have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (four times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (eight times less).

Quoting further from the Phys org report:

The researchers also found that neither Canadian school textbooks nor government resources from the EU, USA, Canada and Australia highlight these actions, instead focussing on incremental changes with much smaller potential to reduce emissions.

Study co-author Kimberly Nicholas said: "We recognize these are deeply personal choices. But we can't ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has. Personally, I've found it really positive to make many of these changes. It's especially important for young people establishing lifelong patterns to be aware which choices have the biggest impact. We hope this information sparks discussion and empowers individuals," she concluded.

Of course, the most controversial of these stats will be the carbon impact of “one fewer child”, given the declining birthrates in most developed countries (indeed globally). In the EU, for example, there were 1.59 live births per woman in 2017, ranging from 1.26 in Malta to 1.90 in France (Europa statistics). “One fewer” moves us into a situation where every other couple decides not to have another child (or decides to have no child at all).

This may indicate the limits on focussing on “personal behaviour”, as a mode of action towards serious climate mitigation - and not on the material toxicity of the system and its institutions into which children are born. Children are often one of the strongest motivators to “make a future fit for them” (an article on the debate here).

From the paper itself, see the fuller graph on carbon impacts of personal activities

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