How can we reduce climate change in our daily lives?

How can we reduce climate change in our daily lives?
Dominic Roberts
Founder of Brief News Daily and an avid writer, video producer and quiz creator. When I am not doing all of those things, I like to run, cycle, read, travel, learn new stuff, cook food, then eat it.
Dominic Roberts


Founder of @briefnewsdaily. Twitter is not real life. #AllLivesMatter
Dominic Roberts

To what extent are individuals responsible for addressing the climate crisis? The conventional wisdom from many commentators and environmentalists seems to be that it is not only unfair to place the burden of climate change solely on individuals, but that it actually does tremendous harm to meaningful and collective action towards fighting climate change globally. Why? Because they see individual action as nothing more than a distraction away from the true causes of climate change and it’s main perpetrators, namely the fossil fuel industry and the corporations which profit from them, the big polluting corporations, the corporations that engage in deforestation, and the politicians who either don’t accept the scientific consensus that climate change is happening or who refuse to take the issue seriously. Rather than taking individual responsibility for the environmental impact of our daily lifestyle choices, they would much prefer to see us use our time and energy to put pressure on governments and institutions by making a collective demand for urgent action and reform.

To me though, this “either or” binary mentality, where individual action and systemic action are pitted against each other, is a big mistake, only ever solving half of the climate change equation. I agree that changes to our personal behaviours and lifestyle alone are insufficient to address the climate crisis, but it cannot be denied that they form an essential part of the strategy to reduce global warming, and so they should work in tandem with the systemic changes needed at the political and institutional level, not against them. It is also important to recognise that individual action to fight climate change has the power to drive political and institutional change in this direction also. For example, if millions of us choose to lead by example and consume less meat, drive and fly less, use sustainable transportation more often, and reduce food waste, this would undoubtedly force the political and institutional leaders to pay attention and drive the necessary changes to address the climate crisis.

So how can we reduce climate change in our daily lives and help drive systemic change? An interesting piece of research published in July 2017 by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas considers a broad range of individual eco-lifestyle choices and the extent to which each of these has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on the kilograms of approximate carbon dioxide equivalent that each behaviour reduces per year, they are categorised as either high impact actions, moderate impact actions, or low impact actions, and I have included these in the tables below.

High impact actions

High impact actions are those which reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 800kg of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year.

BehaviourApproximate CO2e reduced per year (kg)
Have one fewer child23,700-117,700
Live car free1,000-5,300
Avoid one flight700-2,800
Purchase green energy<100-2,500
Reduce effects of driving1,190
Eat a plant-based diet300-1,600

Moderate impact actions

Moderate impact actions are those which reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions from anywhere between 200kg and 800kg of CO2e per year.

BehaviourApproximate CO2e reduced per year (kg)
Reduce food waste370
Eat less meat230
Conserve energy210
Eat local0-360
Install solar panels/renewablesNo data
Use public transportation, bike, walkNo data
Buy energy efficient productsNo data
Reduce consumptionNo data

Low impact actions

Low impact actions are those which reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions by less than 200kg of CO2e per year.

BehaviourApproximate CO2e reduced per year (kg)
Home heating/cooling efficiency180
Plant a tree6-60
Conserve waterNo data
Eliminate unnecessary travelNo data
Minimise wasteNo data
Reduce lawn mowingNo data
EcotourismNo data
Buy Ecolabel productsNo data

Citation: Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024.

Rear view of woman with orange warm jacket standing in winter landscape image by grandfailure and used under the standard license.

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