Best ways to cut climate change are overlooked

Governments and schools are failing to help people to recognise the best ways to cut climate change, researchers say.

by Alex Kirby

Teachers and policymakers are missing a golden opportunity to show people the best ways to cut climate change and reduce their carbon footprint, a study says. It identifies four ways of behaving that it says will have the most substantial effect in decreasing someone’s climate impact: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living without reliance on a car, and having smaller families.

The researchers, from Lund University in Sweden, analysed 39 peer-reviewed papers, carbon calculators and government reports to calculate the potential of a range of individual lifestyle choices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They say their comprehensive analysis identifies what people can do to have the greatest impact. Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the authors say their study found the incremental changes advocated by governments may represent a missed opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beneath the levels needed to prevent 2°C of climate warming, the goal set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

They also confront the distinct possibility that some readers will not like their suggestions: “Though some high-impact actions may be politically unpopular, from an emissions reduction perspective this does not justify a focus on moderate or low-impact actions at the expense of high-impact actions.

“As a specific example, one textbook says ‘making a difference doesn’t have to be difficult’ and provides the example of switching from plastic bags to reusable shopping bags in order to save 5kg of CO2 per year. This is less than 1% as effective as a year without eating meat. Examples like this represent missed opportunities to encourage serious engagement on climate change.

Image: By William Cho via Wikimedia Commons