Individual action on climate change

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Citizen demonstrating at the People's Climate March (2017).

Individual action on climate change can include personal choices in many areas, including consumption of goods and services, including household energy use; long and short-distance travel mechanisms; food and diet choices; and family size. Individuals can also engage in local and political advocacy around issues of climate change.

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report emphasises that behaviour, lifestyle and cultural change have a high mitigation potential in some sectors, particularly when complementing technological and structural change.[1]:20 In general, higher consumption lifestyles have a greater environmental impact. Several scientific studies have shown that when people, especially those living in developed countries but more generally including all countries, wish to reduce their carbon footprint, there are four key "high-impact" actions they can take:[2][3]

  1. Not having an additional child (58.6 tonnes CO
    -equivalent emission reductions per year)
  2. Living car-free (2.4 tonnes CO
  3. Avoiding one round-trip transatlantic flight (1.6 tonnes)
  4. Eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tonnes)

These appear to differ significantly from the popular advice for “greening” one’s lifestyle, which seem to fall mostly into the “low-impact” category: Replacing a typical car with a hybrid (0.52 tonnes); Washing clothes in cold water (0.25 tonnes); Recycling (0.21 tonnes); Upgrading light bulbs (0.10 tonnes); etc. The researchers found that public discourse on reducing one’s carbon footprint overwhelmingly focuses on low-impact behaviors, and that mention of the high-impact behaviors is almost non-existent in the mainstream media, government publications, K-12 school textbooks, etc.[2][3] The researchers added that “Our recommended high-impact actions are more effective than many more commonly discussed options (e.g. eating a plant-based diet saves eight times more emissions than upgrading light bulbs). More significantly, a US family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives.”[2][3]

Family size[edit]

It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.

William J. Ripple, lead author of the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, BioScience, 2017.[4]

Although having fewer children is the individual action that most effectively reduces a person's climate impact, the issue is rarely raised, and it is arguably controversial due to its very private nature. Even so, ethicists[5][6], some politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,[7] and others[3][8][9][10] have started discussing the climate implications associated with reproduction.

Travel and commuting[edit]

Diet and food[edit]

  • A carbon diet is an effective way to understand the amount of impact on the environment and how to make meaningful changes.
  • A low carbon diet is a way of reducing impact by choosing food that causes much less pollution.
  • Trees: Protecting forests and planting new trees contributes to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the air. There are many opportunities to plant trees in the yard, along roads, in parks, and in public gardens. In addition, some charities plant fast-growing trees—for as little as $US0.10 per tree—to help people in tropical developing countries restore the productivity of their lands.[12] Conversely, clearing old-growth forests adds to the carbon in the atmosphere, so buying non-old-growth paper is good for the climate as well as the forest.[citation needed]

Home energy[edit]

Reducing home energy use through measures such as insulation, better energy efficiency of appliances, and improving heating and cooling efficiency can significantly reduce individual's carbon footprints.[13]

In addition, the choice of fuel used to heat, cool, and power homes makes a difference in the carbon footprint of individual homes. Many energy suppliers in various countries worldwide have options to purchase part or pure "green energy." The wind energy produced in Denmark, for example, provides about 20 percent of the country's total electricity needs.[14] These methods of energy production emit no greenhouse gases once they are up and running.

  • Carbon offsets: The principle of carbon offset is thus: one decides that they don't want to be responsible for accelerating climate change, and they've already made efforts to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, so they decide to pay someone else to further reduce their net emissions by planting trees or by taking up low-carbon technologies. Every unit of carbon that is absorbed by trees—or not emitted due to your funding of renewable energy deployment—offsets the emissions from their fossil fuel use. In many cases, funding of renewable energy, energy efficiency, or tree planting — particularly in developing nations—can be a relatively cheap way of making an individual "carbon neutral". Carbon offset providers—some as inexpensive as US$0.11 per metric ton (US$0.10 per US ton) of carbon dioxide—are referenced below under Lifestyle Action.

Installing rooftop solar, both on a household and community scale, also drastically reduces household emissions, and at scale could be a major contributor to greenhouse gas abatement.[15]

Personal consumption[edit]

  • Labels: The Energy Star label can be seen on many household appliances, home electronics, office equipment, heating and cooling equipment, windows, residential light fixtures, and other products. Energy Star products use less energy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edenhofer, Ottmar; Pichs-Madruga, Ramón; et al. (2014). "Summary for Policymakers" (PDF). In IPCC (ed.). Climate change 2014: mitigation of climate change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-65481-5. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  2. ^ a b c Wynes, Seth; Nicholas, Kimberly A (12 July 2017). "The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions". Environmental Research Letters. 12 (7): 074024. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541.
  3. ^ a b c d Perkins, Sid (July 11, 2017). "The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is one the government isn't telling you about". Science. Retrieved 29 March 2019.
  4. ^ Ripple, William J.; et al. (13 November 2017), "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice" (PDF), BioScience, 67 (12): 1026–1028, doi:10.1093/biosci/bix125
  5. ^ Conly, Sarah (2016). One child : do we have a right to more?. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-020343-6.
  6. ^ "Bioethicist: The climate crisis calls for fewer children". Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  7. ^ "We need to talk about the ethics of having children in a warming world". Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children". Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  9. ^ "Population Matters: Climate change". Retrieved 21 March 2019.
  10. ^ Bawden, Tom (April 26, 2019). "Save the planet by having fewer children, says environmentalist Sir Jonathan Porritt". i. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  11. ^ "Is 'green' the new black?".
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Heede, Richard (2002-04-09). "Household Solutions" (PDF). Rocky Mountain Institute. Retrieved 2007-07-07. As we'll see below, homeowners can take a measured approach to emissions reduction, gradually saving and investing small amounts of capital, and far exceed the U.S.'s Kyoto Protocol commitment to reduce all emissions of greenhouse gases to 7 per cent below 1990 emissions by 2012.
  14. ^ "Wind energy". Risø National Laboratory. Retrieved 2007-07-07.
  15. ^ "Rooftop Solar". Drawdown. 2017-02-07. Retrieved 2019-05-12.

External links[edit]