Your Daily Choices Will Make the Biggest Impact on Climate Change

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Worried that climate change is out of your hands? Not true, says this Swedish study.

According to a recent study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the global discussion on climate change prevention is leaving out the top most effective steps an individual can take to reduce their carbon footprint.The study is entitled, The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions,” and highlights four areas in particular.

It’s In Our Hands

Eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, having one fewer child, and living car-free are the top four carbon footprint limiting actions named in the study. To arrive at these four, the research team comprehensively analyzed 39 peer-reviewed papers, government reports, and other carbon calculators to find the range of potential impact the individual lifestyle can have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Upon releasing their results, the team pointed out that these simple “behavioral shifts could work faster than waiting for national climate policies and widespread energy transformations.”

More Effective than Other, More Widely-Known Actions

Seth Wynes, lead author of the study, explained that, “We found these four actions 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).”


Textbooks and Government Websites are Lacking

In addition, the research team found that both public school textbooks and government resources in the U.S., Canada , EU, and Australia neglect to prioritize these four areas, naming instead more incremental changes with less potential to reduce emissions. The study states that these four 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.”

Study Author Acknowledges Tough, but Empowering Choices

In conclusion, Kimberly Nicholas, study co-author, explains,“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.”

Kristen lives in the Michiana area, where she enjoys lake-effect weather, apple orchards and occasional South Shore rides into Chicago. She can probably tell you more about apple cider vinegar than you'd ever want to know. You can reach her at: http://lakesedge.wix.com/lakesidewriting

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