Those who want to get serious about tackling climate change should forget about recycling and have fewer babies, based on the results of a newly released study.
A paper published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters found that the most effective “lifestyle choice” for reducing personal greenhouse-gas emissions is having “one fewer child,” followed by living car-free, avoiding airline travel, and eating a plant-based diet.
More widespread strategies such as recycling, driving hybrid vehicles and switching to reusable shopping bags didn’t even come close to achieving the same carbon reduction.
“We recognize these are deeply personal choices. But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has,” study co-author Kimberly Nicholas of Lund University in Sweden told Phys.org.
“Personally, I’ve found it really positive to make many of these changes,” she said.
“It’s especially important for young people establishing lifelong patterns to be aware which choices have the biggest impact,” Ms. Nicholas said. “We hope this information sparks discussion and empowers individuals.”
One dilemma for the climate-conscious is that the average birth rate in the countries studied — the United States, Australia, Europe and Canada — is already below two children per woman, which means that for many women, bearing “one fewer child” would mean having no kids.
The average birth rate per woman in the United States and Australia is 1.86, followed by Canada with 1.61 and the European Union with 1.6, based on 2014 data.
“The most effective individual steps to tackle climate change aren’t being discussed,” Phys.org said.
There may be a reason for that. “Want more people to join your cause? Don’t say stuff like this,” tweeted energy consultant Steve Everley.
Of the four “high-impact actions” identified in the study, having fewer children easily had the most dramatic impact on emissions, with an estimated reduction of 58.6 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, versus 2.4 tons for the second-best option, not owning a car.
The study also recommended that schools spread the word by promoting such “high-impact actions” to students in adolescence.
An analysis of 10 Canadian high school social science textbooks found that “[n]o textbook suggested having fewer children as a way to reduce emissions, and only two out of ten mentioned avoiding air travel.”
Lead author Seth Wynes said those who opt to have fewer children in the name of climate change should find the results reassuring.
“There are so many factors that affect the climate impact of personal choices, but bringing all these studies side-by-side gives us confidence we’ve identified actions that make a big difference,” Mr. Wynes said. “Those of us who want to step forward on climate need to know how our actions can have the greatest possible impact. This research is about helping people make more informed choices.”
The study analyzed the impact of 148 behaviors in 10 countries drawn from 39 sources.
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