According to a Swedish study from Lund University, having one less child is the best way to reduce your carbon impact. Based on 39 previous scientific studies and government reports, it evaluates the most effective individual actions to reduce one’s carbon footprint. The results confirm that a totally different lifestyle is required, as small everyday actions, although useful, play only a minor role. For example, changing the light bulbs in your home has eight times less impact than going without meat. Putting your flat screen TV on standby saves 2 kWh per year, or about 106 grams of CO2 eliminated. This is enough to compensate for a mere 900 meters by car! Nevertheless, it is possible to act without giving up everything; here are some tips.
Having fewer children
Having one less child is equivalent to reducing CO2 emissions by 58.6 tons per year, according to the Lund University study. “This is equivalent to 684 teenagers who decide to systematically recycle their waste for the rest of their lives,” the researchers say. The idea is highly controversial, however, especially since the researchers based their calculations on an American family, which has a very high carbon footprint per capita and a relatively moderate birth rate. Nevertheless, since our lifestyles influence the whole world, the impact should extend to those whose birth rate is rising very fast. Some are therefore putting forward iconoclastic measures: the ecologist Yves Cochet, for example, supports a “reverse family allowance”, which decreases with each additional child.
Doing without a car and driving slower
Driving a vehicle weighing more than a ton to carry a single passenger weighing 70 kilograms is a questionable proposition. Yet, according to INSEE, 70% of employees use their car to go to work. Of course, many have no choice, but even for a trip of less than a kilometer, 58% of French people still prefer the car! Public transport or carpooling does of course make the journey a little longer, but it avoids traffic jams and allows you to make new friends. If you really want to keep your car, adopting a smoother driving style and driving slower will limit its impact. For example, the change from 90 km/h to 80 km/h on national roads reduces fuel consumption by 15%.
Avoiding air travel
A round trip from Paris to New York or six round trips from Paris to Marseille emit one ton of CO2e per passenger, which is the annual consumption of a French person to heat his or her home or 5,000 kilometers by car. By comparison, six round trips from Paris to Marseille by TGV generate 24 kilograms of CO2e (40 times less). Whenever possible, avoid flying for your trips, preferring video conferencing for a business meeting or France for your vacations (there are even landscapes worthy of the Grand Canyon in the Vaucluse!). If the trip is really necessary, take a direct flight, because it is during the takeoff that the planes consume the most fuel. Several companies, including Air France, also offer to offset their emissions.
Adopt a vegetarian diet
Food weighs a quarter of the carbon footprint of a French person, according to a 2018 Ademe study taking into account the entire sector (agricultural production, transport of goods, energy consumption…). But it all depends on what you eat: a kilogram of beef thus generates 16 kilograms CO2e, against 6 kilograms CO2e for pork or 0.7 kilograms CO2e for a kilogram of durum wheat. According to a study published in Climatic Change, switching from a meat-rich diet (more than 100 grams per day) to a vegetarian diet reduces one’s carbon footprint by 1,198 kilograms CO2e/year, or more than 10,300 kilometers by car. Meat consumption in France is however decreasing: according to Crédoc, it has decreased by 12% in ten years. But more for health and price concerns than because of a real concern for the environment.
“Single-person households cause CO2 emissions to skyrocket,” says the Ipsos research institute in a 2010 study. A single person generates a carbon footprint of 10,685 kilograms of CO2/year, compared to 5,436 kilograms per person for a three-person household. Logical: heating and electricity expenses are largely shared when several people live together. The type of housing is also a determining factor: households living in single-family homes consume on average 2.2 times more energy than those living in apartment buildings (houses do not benefit from the heat released by neighboring homes). Ademe recommends reducing the proportion of single-family homes in new construction in favor of small collective housing and “optimizing the surface area of housing”. It is still possible to reduce one’s carbon footprint without moving, in particular by insulating one’s home.
Prefer the telephone to email
Computers, data centers, network equipment and other digital devices will account for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. A single email generates 4 grams of CO2, while a message with a photo represents the equivalent of 500 meters by car. Therefore, prefer conversations by phone, and store your data locally (for example on a hard drive), rather than in the cloud where your data is stored thousands of kilometers away on energy-hungry servers. Preferably work on a laptop, which consumes two to four times less power than a desktop PC.