Pro-environmental behaviours that actually make a difference

In a recent blog post I was ranting about the fact that the University I work at is introducing reusable coffee cups. The blog was about how these aren’t going to make any significant difference to your environmental impact. In an attempt to say something constructive about what we might do instead, I quoted David Mackay‘s book, but I have since remembered that there is an excellent review of information on what pro-environmental behaviours might make a real difference. It’s some work that came from Lund University in Sweden last year. This journal paper was picked up by various news articles, primarily because it included the impact of having one fewer child as an environmental behaviour. That this is the best possible thing you could do for the environment should be blatantly obvious but is rarely spoken about, let alone quantified.

Pregnant pause…

I’m not going to comment on the data or the methods, I’m simply reproducing some of the data so that people can better understand what actions they can take to make a significant difference to CO2 emissions.

environmental actions

These numbers are largely a synthesis of previous data. The main focus of the paper itself is analysing the advice that governments give their citizens on what they can do to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The authors find that the actions that governments recommend aren’t the ones that make the biggest difference. The authors don’t speculate on why this might be the case; I guess it is difficult for elected politicians to say anything that’s difficult to hear. The findings do go part way to explaining why it is that so many of us don’t feel like we know what we should do if we care about climate change.

Lots of assumptions behind these numbers, but they’re all referenced in the journal paper, which is open access, so you can look at the detail if you’re interested.

Postscript on the impact of having one fewer child: This is a complex one, and there are various potential calculation methods, none of which are without problems. If you’re interested in this, click on the link to the journal paper, then on the right hand side under ‘related content’ various academics respond to this part of the paper.

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