For those unwilling to face difficult ideas – even when expressed satirically – it's probably best to put the bag back over your head now rather than read on.
The following are facts, according to a study of 39 peer-reviewed papers by Seth Wynes, from the University of British Columbia, and Kimberly Nicholas, from Lund University. Their work, The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, is published in Environmental Research Letters [**].
- Vegetarianism saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 a year. This is four times more effective at reducing emissions than recycling and eight times more effective than changing to energy-efficient lightbulbs.
- One person living without a car would reduce carbon output by 2.4 tonnes a year
- Avoiding one transatlantic flight would save 1.6 tonnes of carbon every year. This is the same saving as an individual makes recycling waste for 20 years
- One child results in up to 59 tonnes of CO2 a year
- Having one child fewer is better for the environment than 700 teenagers dedicating themselves to recycling for the rest of their lives.
The researchers end their paper like this:
“We have identified four recommended actions which we believe to be especially effective in reducing an individual's greenhouse gas emissions: having one fewer child, living car-free, avoiding airplane travel, and eating a plant-based diet. These suggestions contrast with other top recommendations found in the literature such as hang-drying clothing or driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Our results show that education and government documents do not focus on high-impact actions for reducing emissions, creating a mitigation gap between official recommendations and individuals willing to align their behaviour with climate targets. Focusing on high-impact actions (through providing accurate guidance and information, especially to 'catalytic' individuals such as adolescents) could be an important dimension of scaling bottom-up action to the transformative decarbonisation implied by the 2 °C climate target, and starting to close this gap."
However, an alternative – if somewhat unpalatable (in every sense) – conclusion from all this would seem to be to eat more children – preferably other people's of course. I need to say that this is not a conclusion that the researchers include in their paper.
[**] Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024