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CO2 Reduction Strategies Chart

One Action Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 100 Times More Than Driving a Hybrid

Would you be surprised to find that having fewer children is the most effective way to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions? I’m excited to honor Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas at the University of British Columbia for quantifying the most effective carbon reduction strategies. Congratulations, also, to Kendra Pierre-Louis of Popular Science and to Sid Perkins and Science magazine, for reporting on this UBC study.

The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions

Kudos, also, to the journal Environmental Research Letters, for publishing this study, which sought to identify the “high-impact” actions we can take, and distinguish them from actions which – while well and good – accomplish far less. This work is all the more remarkable for the fact that it spotlights a green behavior that’s traditionally received very little mention in “polite circles.” Fact is, our culture has avoided this subject like the plague. There is, however, no avoiding the scientific evidence that having one fewer child has enormous climate change minimizing benefits, truly dwarfing other strategies.

In Popular Science, Here’s How You Can Actually Help Stop Climate Change, Kendra Pierre-Louis summarizes:

“…the four actions that create the most bang for your emissions-reducing buck are ones most of us avoid: having fewer children; living without a car; avoiding transatlantic flights; and eating a plant-based (mostly vegetarian) diet.”

If you’re serious about leaving our children a habitable climate, these are the strategies you DON’T want to avoid. The irony is not lost on me. The most loving thing you can do for your children is not to have any. Or at least stop after one. Or, if that horse already left the barn, don’t have any more!

The Popular Science story gives us some important perspective:

“Americans emit a whopping 16.1 tons of carbon per person per year….the 2050 goal set by the Paris Climate Accords…would have us lower our annual emissions to around 2.1 tons of carbon per person.”

“…swapping out your lightbulbs would reduce CO2 emissions by less than .2 tons per year. Living car free, however? That reduces your CO2 emissions by more than 3 tons. Having one less child reduces climate change impacts by 120 tons of CO2 emissions per year…”

Stunned? Well, you should be. But it makes sense when you consider:

“it’s not only a reduction of the emissions associated with the child, but also means avoiding emissions that their child would have created.”

It should be noted that the 120 tons of CO2 reduction applies to the average U.S. resident (because each of us is such an over-consumer). The global average is a 58.2 metric ton reduction by having one fewer child. That is still more than 50 times the impact one gets from switching to hybrid car. The chart above shows the averages from all identified studies in “developed” nations.

I’m genuinely thrilled to see the study, and the coverage. And I want to extend special thanks to Science Magazine and freelance writer Sid Perkins for building their story (The Best Way to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint is One The Government Isn’t Telling You About) around the benefit of exercising some procreative responsibility. Sid also makes this important observation:

“Despite the effectiveness of these four measures, neither the textbooks in Canadian schools nor government reports or websites in the European Union, the United States, Canada, or Australia highlight these choices, possibly because most of them require such extreme changes in lifestyle.”

Even if public policy isn’t moving fast enough, we can all – ourselves – do much more, armed with information like this. Perhaps with more media coverage like this, more of us will get serious about heading off what really will be an apocalypse if we don’t.

Chart Credit: The chart was created by Science magazine using data from the UBC study. I took the liberty of adding a little flourish with the baby background.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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