Real Talk: We Need to Do More Than Just Recycle to Prevent Climate Change



Climate change is real, and it’s time we stop denying it.

Ask most people, and their version of trying to prevent an environmental apocalypse is probably recycling, which apparently makes them the most environmentally-friendly hippies ever. But a recent study suggests we need to do more.

We’ve uncovered four high-impact actions mentioned in a new study, which are rarely mentioned by the government or in school textbooks.

Although the more well-known, low-impact actions like recycling are still worth doing. “They are more of a beginning than an end. They are certainly not sufficient to tackle the scale of the climate challenge that we face,” says Kimberly Nicholas, a co-author of the study.

The study, published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters in Lund University, Sweden, reveals we need to take climate change seriously and take real actions to cut down on our carbon footprint – once and for all.

Your carbon footprint is the total annual sum of carbon dioxide (CO2) or greenhouse gas emissions caused by your activities, which contribute to global warming.

Researchers looked at several developed countries (including Australia, North America and Europe) and calculated how we can cut down on our carbon footprint.

To put that into context, we all need to cut our carbon emissions to two tonnes of CO2 per person by 2050 so the world doesn’t get totally screwed over by the severe effects of climate change such as extreme temperatures leading to heat waves and droughts, rising sea levels, acidic oceans, and the mass extinction of up to 50% of the world’s species in the coming decades.

But in Australia and the US, emissions are still 16 tonnes per person; in the UK, it’s seven tonnes per person. This means we’re not doing enough to reduce our impact on the environment.

According to Kimberly Nicholas: “Cutting down on emissions is obviously a really big change and we wanted to show that individuals have an opportunity to be a part of that.”

The study recommends the most effective actions we can take that will reduce our carbon emissions significantly – and make a real difference. So, it’s time to stop patting ourselves on the back for reusing your VOSS bottles and returning our LUSH containers.

Here are the top four most effective ways to fight climate change and make the most impact:

1. Rethink your plans for a family:

Sorry to be the bearer of bad (or good, depending on your perspective) news, but the most effective way to reduce your carbon emissions is having one less child (or going child-free). The researchers calculated this would reduce emissions down to 58 tonnes of CO2 for each year of your life.

2. Ditch your car:

This would easily save you 2.4 tonnes a year, cutting air pollution and upping your fitness as you opt for healthier options such as walking and cycling.

3. Avoid long flights:

Avoiding a return transatlantic flight will save you 1.6 tonnes, as air travel tends to be one of the largest contributors of your carbon footprint. This doesn’t mean you have to bid farewell to your dreams of travelling, but it’s a good indicator to be more mindful and consider other forms of travel.

4. Go vegetarian:

In developed countries, meat consumption is off the charts and up to five times higher than recommended. Reducing the amount of meat you eat (especially beef and lamb, as cows and sheep have the worst impact on the environment) or cutting it out completely will not only promote a healthier diet, but it will save you 0.8 tonnes a year.

Kimberly Nicholas says: “We recognise these are deeply personal choices. But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has.

“It is not a sacrifice message. It is trying to find ways to live a good life in a way that leaves a good atmosphere for the planet.”

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Sylvia Lee


Sylvia is a student journalist who loves travel, lifestyle and politics. Fun fact: she once wrote a story about an evil pencil with plans for world domination in primary school. Sylvia wishes people would stop asking her why she's pescatarian and that she were better at writing about herself in the third person.

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