The proven ways for individuals to fight climate change, ranked


Considering that a massive, Delaware-sized “behemoth” of an iceberg just parted from Antarctica, the world really needs to address the growing problem of climate change. And even though it’s contested whether or not global warming contributed to this particular incident of a cracked ice sheet, there’s plenty of other research proving climate change and why the world should care.

But will a vegetarian diet make all that much of a difference? How about recycling? According to a recent study published by a pair of scientists, there is a way to rank which actions reduce greenhouse gas emissions the most. And in lieu of the Paris Agreement, the everyday citizen may want to get acquainted.

“It is especially important that adolescents are prepared for this shift,” co-authors Seth Wynes and Kimberly A. Nicholas wrote in the study. “They still have the freedom to make large behavioral choices that will structure the rest of their lives.”

Basically, researchers examined how effectively common environment-conscious lifestyle choices really combat carbon emissions. As they put it in the study, “individuals have a poor understanding of which actions are more effective than others.” The rankings may surprise you.

The 4 most effective ways to reduce your carbon footprint

According to the study, eating a plant-based diet, living without a car, avoiding air travel and having fewer children are among some of the best ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Though it may be nearly impossible for people to live by all these rules, they could make a significant difference — living without a car for a year, for example, saves the world from about 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide.

“We recognize these are deeply personal choices. But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has,” Nicholas said in a release.

The truth is, some actions go way further than others. A plant-based diet — which means no burgers or barbecues, sorry — “saves 8 times more emissions than upgrading lightbulbs,” the study noted. Meanwhile, having one fewer child would be equivalent to 684 teenagers choosing to recycle for the rest of their lives.

We don’t teach these strategies enough

After figuring out the four most effective methods, scientists looked to see what textbooks are telling Americans to do. Though 216 recommendations were made across a variety of books, they “overwhelmingly focused on moderate or low-impact actions,” the study found.

Textbooks never recommended having fewer kids, for example, and only about 2 out of 10 textbooks suggested that readers avoid air travel. But about 70% of books mentioned recycling, an action that is worthwhile but only considered moderately impactful on greenhouse gas emissions.

Hopefully, scientists can utilize the full list of rankings to help clear the air for the environmentally conscious. Here’s a briefer rundown of some high-, moderate- and low-impact options.

High-impact adjustments

Having one fewer child, avoiding air travel, buying green energy and eating a plant-based diet

Moderate impact adjustments

Installing solar panels or other renewables, using public transportation (or biking and walking), buying energy-efficient products, eating less meat, recycling, eating locally and conserving energy

Low-impact adjustments

Conserving water, minimizing waste by buying things with less packaging, planting a tree, composting, less frequent lawn mowing and buying organic food