Eat more children to combat climate change

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

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

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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