As COP26 comes to an end, the articles about the climate crisis and what we should be doing to try and slow down the rise in temperatures across the world seems overwhelming. Where do we start with trying to save the world, when we’re not a huge fossil fuel company or a world leader or a billionaire?
The general consensus is, not much. We can try to reduce waste, make more ethical choices and persuade big businesses and governments to do the right thing, but our actions are a drop in the (increasingly warmer) ocean.
Would you like some good news to cheer you up? Of course you do. Having one less child is the most efficient way to reduce your impact on the climate. One less! How about the many of us that have no children at all? That’s two less, three less, maybe more from our original plans or the choices we’ve made. Well done us.
A 2017 study, quoted in The Independent, carried out by climate scientists Kimberley Nicholas and Seth Wynes found that a child born into the developed world leaves a 58.6 metric tonne carbon footprint annually. Having one fewer child can be 20 times more effective than other steps to reduce carbon emissions.
The Environmental Research Letters study, quoted in the Guardian, looked at the impact of different actions people can take to reduce their impact. The biggest factor, by a massive margin, is having one fewer child (58.6 CO2 per year), far more than driving a hybrid car (0.52 tonnes CO2 per year), following a plant based diet (0.82 CO2 per year), or recycling (0.21 CO2 a year). The scale is absolutely massive (take a look at the Guardian’s graphic for a better idea).
It’s an impact that resonates throughout generations – the figure was calculated by totting up the emissions of the child and all their descendants, then dividing this total by the parent’s lifespan. The choices we make have a massive impact on the planet, but deciding not to have children is the biggest one by a long way.
The impact of the climate change is also a reason that many young people state they don’t want to have children. When you look around the many wildfires, floods and other natural disasters that come from changing temperatures – would you want to bring a child up when the world is so uncertain? In the same article, the Independent quoted a study that states that nearly a third of 18 to 24-year-olds said they wanted to have fewer or no children because of concerns about their future environmental impact.
It looks like childless people may just save the world.
We are the super heroes we never knew we needed.
Emma is a Brighton-based student. She cares passionately about the environment, and also loves a cocktail.