According to research published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the most effective means of reducing a person’s carbon footprint aren’t being effectively communicated by schools and governments.
The study from Lund University (which consulted 39 peer-reviewed papers, carbon calculators and government reports to arrive at their conclusion) details the four actions that would significantly reduce an individual’s carbon footprint: having fewer children, cutting air travel, getting rid of personal cars and maintaining a plant-based diet.
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)."
According to the researchers, these steps are not detailed in textbooks or government documents from the EU, USA and Canada, instead favoring smaller changes with smaller potential for reducing emissions.
Study co-author Kimberly Nicholas said: "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," she concluded.