Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A new study has collated climate recommendations from other studies. Top of the list is convincing parents to have smaller families, one less child, to reduce the human carbon footprint. In my opinion, this advice, if translated to public policy, could trigger a damaging demographic crisis.
The most effective individual steps to tackle climate change aren’t being discussed
July 11, 2017
Governments and schools are not communicating the most effective ways for individuals to reduce their carbon footprints, according to new research.
Lead author Seth Wynes said: “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. 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.
“We found there are four actions that could result in substantial decreases in an individual’s carbon footprint: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car free, and having smaller families. For example, living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, while eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.
“These actions, therefore, have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies like comprehensive recycling (which is 4 times less effective than a plant-based diet) or changing household lightbulbs (8 times less effective).”
The abstract of the study;
The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions
Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas
Published 12 July 2017 • © 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 12, Number 7
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Current anthropogenic climate change is the result of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere, which records the aggregation of billions of individual decisions. Here we consider a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculate their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries, based on 148 scenarios from 39 sources. We recommend four widely applicable high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions: having one fewer child (an average for developed countries of 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year), living car-free (2.4 tCO2e saved per year), avoiding airplane travel (1.6 tCO2e saved per roundtrip transatlantic flight) and eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tCO2e saved per year). 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). Though adolescents poised to establish lifelong patterns are an important target group for promoting high-impact actions, we find that ten high school science textbooks from Canada largely fail to mention these actions (they account for 4% of their recommended actions), instead focusing on incremental changes with much smaller potential emissions reductions. Government resources on climate change from the EU, USA, Canada, and Australia also focus recommendations on lower-impact actions. We conclude that there are opportunities to improve existing educational and communication structures to promote the most effective emission-reduction strategies and close this mitigation gap.
The study contains a table which puts having fewer children at the top of their list of recommendations.
|Behaviour||Example||Approximate CO2e reduced per year (kg)||AUS||CAN||USA||EU|
|High Impact Actions|
|Have one fewer child||23 700–117 700|
|Live car free||1000–5300||x|
|Avoid one flight (depending on length)||700–2800||x||x|
|Purchase green energy||<100–2500||x||x||x||x|
|Reduce effects of driving||Buy more efficient car||1190||x||x||x||x|
|Eat a plant-based diet||300–1600|
|Moderate Impact Actions|
|Home heating/cooling efficiency||Wall insulation||180 (Chitnis et al 2013)||x||x||x||x|
|Install solar panels/renewables||Rooftop solar||x||x||x|
|Use public transportation, bike, walk||x||x||x||x|
|Buy energy efficient products||Energy Star||x||x||x||x|
|Conserve energy||Hang dry clothes||210||x||x||x||x|
|Reduce food waste||No food waste||370 (Hoolohan et al2013)||x||x|
|Eat less meat||230 (Meier and Christen 2012)||x|
|Reduce consumption||Pay bills online||x||x||x|
|Reuse||Reusable shopping bag||5 (Dickinson et al2009)||x||x||x||x|
|Eat local||0–360 (Coley et al2009, Weber and Matthews 2008)||x|
|Low Impact Actions|
|Conserve water||Run full dishwasher||x||x||x||x|
|Eliminate unnecessary travel||x||x|
|Plant a tree||6–60 (Freedman and Keith 1996)||x||x|
|Purchase carbon offsets||x|
|Reduce lawn mowing||Let lawn grow longer||x|
|Ecotourism||Use Ecolabelled accommodation||x|
|Keep backyard chickens||x|
|Buy Ecolabel products||x|
|Calculate your home’s footprint||x|
|Influence employer’s actions||x||x|
|Influence school’s actions||x|
Source: Same link as above
In my opinion the recommendations of this study are potentially very damaging. Most Western countries and even a few Asian countries are facing a potential demographic crisis due to a low domestic birth rate.
A declining population means countries have fewer active working people as a proportion of the population. As a declining population ages, the effort of providing for older people is shared amongst fewer active working people. Fewer resources are available to take care of the old and the sick.
China in particular, which for years had a one child per family policy, potentially faces an economically debilitating demographic crisis, as large numbers of older people reach the end of their working lives, and attempts to reverse the one child policy encounter resistance from a people who have grown used to small families.
Falling birthrate is an issue in the USA. It would likely not take much of a push to precipitate demographic problems in the USA on the same scale as many other countries are facing. Studies which recommend a reduced birthrate for any reason, if translated into public policy, could easily supply that push.
Correction (EW): h/t gareth – Removed quote marks from “one less child” in the title, the correct direct quote is “one fewer child”.