Want to save the planet? Have fewer children, study says

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If you want to lower your carbon footprint, researchers say you should eat less meat, ditch your car and most importantly — have one less kid than planned.

The study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, and led by a University of British Columbia researcher, said your carbon footprint is drastically reduced by not having children.

READ MORE: Canada ‘missed the boat’ on climate change policies: doctor

Traditional “green” methods, such as recycling, hanging clothes to dry and driving a hybrid car help the environment, but nothing has an impact like having fewer kids, the study found.

Credit: Seth Wynes/Kimberly Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters, 2017.

The researchers analyzed 39 studies and government reports assessing the impact individual lifestyle choices make on reducing CO2 levels. They concluded the environmental activities governments recommend, such as recycling, only make small impacts.

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The authors said the four actions that substantially decrease an individual’s carbon footprint are:

  1. Having a smaller family
  2. Living car-free
  3. Avoiding air travel
  4. Giving up meat

“There are so many factors that affect the climate impact of personal choices, but bringing all these studies side-by-side gives us confidence we’ve identified actions that make a big difference,” lead author Seth Wynes said.

READ MORE: Beyond Earth Hour: Tips for saving energy, reducing your carbon footprint every day

The four actions can reduce an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 0.8 tonnes per year (about five per cent of annual emissions in the U.S.) the study said. The authors also said having one less kid is the equivalent of convincing 684 teenagers, who do not recycle, to recycle for the rest of their lives.

‘It’s unfair to say don’t have kids’

Amin Asadollahi, a climate change expert with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, believes the problem with climate change isn’t about human numbers, but about energy consumption.

“It’s the feedback loop,” he said. “If we don’t change our energy patterns, then if you have more more human beings of course that exasperates the problem.”

However, Asadollahi said it is possible to have kids and still save the planet.

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“Imagine a world where we only use renewable energy,” he said. “If the numbers of carbon emissions go down then the human impact also drops. It is unfair to have ‘hey, don’t have kids.’ It is more about energy consumption.”

Reducing emissions by 2050

Scientists warn a destructive tipping point is possible in the next few decades. Many scientists predict by 2050, the average global temperature could rise by more than 2 C.

The Paris climate agreement sets to cap warming at under 2 C, and even 1.5 C if possible.

READ MORE: Many Canadians unaware of ‘magnitude of challenge’ in reaching 2050 climate goals

Wynes said under the agreement, everyone on the planet needs to reduce their carbon footprint to just two tonnes of CO2 a year by 2050.

Not having kids limits a person’s carbon footprint by 58.6 tonnes a year, according to the research.

Asadollahi does agree that something does need to be done to lower CO2 levels. He said the key is to address the energy issues now so the next generation can live in a better world.

“The science is out there, we can eat in a more sustainable level, eat local, drive less and invest in clean energy. This is missing in the study. Humans do have an impact — but not because we produce children — because our consumption patterns aren’t sustainable.”

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