Having one less child, going car-free, flying less, and shifting to a vegetarian diet are the most promising but rarely-emphasized options for people in industrialized countries to reduce their carbon footprint, researchers from Lund University in Sweden report in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
The research team calculated the impact of having one less child at 58 tonnes per year of a parent’s life by factoring in 50% of the child’s carbon footprint, 25% of each grandchild’s emissions, and so on.
“We recognize these are deeply personal choices. But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has,” said researcher Kimberly Nicholas. “It is our job as scientists to honestly report the data. Like a doctor who sees the patient is in poor health and might not like the message ‘smoking is bad for you’, we are forced to confront the fact that current emission levels are really bad for the planet and human society.”
Annual per capita carbon emissions currently stand at 16 tonnes in the United States and Australia and seven tonnes in the UK, far short of the two-tonne target developed countries must achieve by 2050 to avert the worst effects of climate change.
The best carbon reduction options “reduce emissions many times more than common green activities, such as recycling, using low-energy light bulbs, or drying washing on a line,” The Guardian reports. “However, the high impact actions are rarely mentioned in government advice and school textbooks, researchers found.”
The Guardian notes that overpopulation “has been a controversial factor in the climate change debate,” and Nicholas acknowledged the choices involved are anything but simple.
“In life, there are many values on which people make decisions and carbon is only one of them,” she said. “I don’t have children, but it is a choice I am considering and discussing with my fiancé. Because we care so much about climate change, that will certainly be one factor we consider in the decision, but it won’t be the only one.”