What changes could you make to your lifestyle that would have the greatest impact on your own, individual greenhouse gas emissions?
This is a question many environmentally-minded people may sometimes ponder. If you knew what to really focus on, you could worry less about the smaller, more marginal changes.
Thankfully, a pair of researchers have come up with the answers. Dr. Kimberly Nicholas, associate professor of Sustainability Science at Sweden’s Lund University, and Seth Wynes, a PhD Student at Canada’s University of British Columbia, analysed 39 peer-reviewed articles, carbon calculators and government sources to quantify the most high-impact personal lifestyle choices in developed countries.
Strap on your seatbelts: these are all major lifestyle changes – extreme even. But that’s not to say you can’t make progress towards each, even if you’re not ready to fully take the plunge.
Adopt a plant-based diet
By going veggie, you’d reduce emissions from several sources, including fertilizers, methane production by livestock and transport of food.
On average, the study found, eating a plant-based diet saves about 0.8 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2) per year; carbon dioxide equivalent is the standard unit for measuring carbon footprints. To put this in context, carbon dioxide emissions per person will have to be below 2.1 tonnes annually by 2050 if the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius is to be achieved.
Put another way, eating a plant-based diet saves about four times more greenhouse gas emissions per year than recycling, the study found.
What next? If you’re a true carnivore, you may not want to cut meat entirely out of your diet; try starting with something like Meat Free Mondays.
Cut back on flying
Everyone knows that flying is bad for the environment, so if you really want to reduce your carbon footprint, you must minimise flying, especially long-haul. Each roundtrip transatlantic flight avoided saves 1.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent per year.
Or, for comparison, avoiding just one transatlantic flight saves eight times more greenhouse gas emissions per year than recycling.
What next? Cutting back on flying can be difficult for many people. If you do need to fly, you can at least offset emissions; there’s plenty of information online on how best to do this.
If you somehow managed to live car-free for a year - not easy for most people - you’d save 2.4 tonnes of CO2-equivalents. Or put another way, you’d save 11 times more greenhouse gas emissions than recycling in that year.
What next? Thankfully there is an alternative to ditching your car entirely: get an electric vehicle. You could also walk, cycle or take public transport rather than using your car. Or try leaving your car at home for at least one journey a week.
Have one fewer child
Perhaps unsurprisingly, introducing one less consumer into the world will have the biggest impact of all, the study concluded.
Based on current emission rates, the researchers concluded that having one fewer child would save 58.6 tonnes CO2-equivalents per year.
What next? Having fewer children to reduce your impact on the environment clearly won’t be for everyone. You may instead choose to raise environmentally-aware children who are part of a wiser, greener generation.
Use less energy or greener energy at home
Outside of the big four, the next most important changes you can make are at home. This includes using green energy – either by generating it yourself or switching to a genuinely green tariff – and steps like upgrading your light bulbs to LEDs.
There are lots of ways to use less energy or at home. And some of the easiest also offer the largest potential savings.
By paying closer attention to how much energy you’re using and how much it’s costing you, perhaps by using an energy-saving assistant like Loop, you can easily shave 15% off your usage and bill. It’s called the Feedback Effect.
Cutting your Phantom Load can save, on average, another £140 (or up to £450 if you’re a proper haunted house).
And lastly, switching energy tariff every year will save you money every year, but also gives you an annual opportunity to ensure you’re on a true green tariff.
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