This article analyses 4 changes to people’s lifestyles that can have an extraordinary impact to make sustainability happen.

This article was inspired by the recent and astonishingly well written paper by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas. You can find a link for this paper below.

The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations vs. Effective Individual Actions

This critical paper considers a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculates their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries.

Following a thorough review, they recommend 4 widely applicable high-impact actions. These are big changes that would substantially reduce annual personal emissions and lead to the kinds of system change that is needed to make sustainability a reality.

Let’s now turn to the 4 big changes for sustainability.

1.    Having one fewer child

This is a tough and sensitive area. But sustainability is a tough business. There is no point beating about the bush and hiding from the truth. Wynes and Nicholas should be praised for their willingness to investigate this subject matter.

This information is simply too important to ignore when there are changes that can lead to big reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

If you take a look at the graph below, which is drawn from page 4 in their paper, the evidence is clear. No other change even comes close to achieving the same emissions reductions.

page 4 graph.jpg

What this means, is that people who care about sustainability and who are interested in building a better world should consider having one fewer child.

It may not be the high flying technological advice that people want. But it is effective.

2.    Living car-free

Living car-free is an excellent way to make a big change that makes sustainability happen.

As the graph shows, this change makes a big difference. The difference is much bigger than simply buying a more efficient car.

Electric vehicles are excellent and they are certainly required in some capacity, hopefully as a product of service or as a rental option for when a car is absolutely necessary.

But even electric vehicles facilitate the never ending miles of low density urban sprawl. James Howard Kunstler was right when he decried this as a: “geography of nowhere.” These low density areas have an enormous environmental footprint of their own.

A car-free lifestyle has to be the preferred option. It reduces congestion, making streets and cities more liveable. A car-free lifestyle would also go a long way to reducing obesity and contribute towards reducing air pollution, which engulfs many cities.

A car-free lifestyle is an essential pillar of any sustainable lifestyle.

3.  Avoiding aeroplane travel

This is probably the big change that people are most familiar with. Lots of people know that flying causes the release of greenhouse gasses. Lots of people also know that it is necessary that steps are taken to reduce these gasses. The question is how many people act on this information? Perhaps more would, if they were aware of the impact, compared to other initiatives.

Avoiding aeroplane travel saved 1.6 tCO2e per roundtrip transatlantic flight avoided. This is a big number. Even if you added all of the low-impact actions together, they would scarcely come close.

The following actions are big on media attention, but low on impact.

  • Upgrade lightbulbs
  • Hang dry clothes
  • Recycle
  • Wash clothes in cold water

That’s not to say that they are unimportant. They still need to be pursued as some of them present other non-climate related environmental problems.

But what is clear, is that flying less is an essential element of a sustainable lifestyle.

4.  Eating a plant-based diet

This is my personal favourite and another vindication of the enormous sustainability benefits of vegan lifestyles.

Eating a plant-based diet saved 0.8 tCO2e per year, again another big number. In relation to more heavily promoted strategies the scale becomes clear.  Recycling is 4 times less effective and changing household lightbulbs is 8 times less effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Interestingly, a completely plant based diet is 2 – 4.7 times more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than just decreasing meat consumption.

There are also more rounded benefits of plant-based diets such as biodiversity conservation and a reduction in many common illnesses.

All these benefits and we haven’t even touched upon the moral questionability of the industrial farming system that consumes land and animals lives on an unimaginable scale. That will have to wait for a subsequent article.

Clearly eating a plant-based diet is an essential component of a sustainable lifestyle.

What you need to know

This article analysed 4 changes that people can make that have an extraordinary impact to make sustainability happen.

This article was inspired by the recent paper by Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas. I highly encourage readers to find and read the original text, their findings are important.

The following changes were looked into:

1.     Having one fewer child

2.    Living car-free

3.    Avoiding aeroplane travel

4.    Eating a plant-based diet

These strategies and lifestyle changes are exponentially more effective than commonly held solutions.

We can only hope that this paper’s findings act as a siren warning to wake the world from its slumber.

Achieving sustainability requires bold action. Incremental solutions will only get you so far.

Mass adoption of the 4 actions identified here are essential to achieve sustainability. The foundations of a sustainable society are sustainable lifestyles. They are needed now more than ever.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in taking sustainability forward.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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