A new study from Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden has identified the four most efficient things one can do to reduce one’s greenhouse gas emissions. For us who have studied environmental issues they aren’t surprising, but for the general public they might come as a shock since most environmental organizations tend to emphasize other, less efficient actions when calling for a transition to a greener society. The four actions are:
1. Going Vegan
Eating a plant-based diet instead of a meaty one will save you approximately 0.8 tonnes of CO2-equivalents every year. That’s four times more than what you save if you always recycle, and eight times more than changing your lightbulbs to energy efficient ones. In fact, UN studies have shown that the meat and dairy industry account for 18 % of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is why the UN Environmental Program has urged the global population to eat more vegan food.
2. Skipping Air Travel
Air travel is a luxury, being experienced by only 6 % of the world’s population any given year. Every transatlantic trip one avoids saves 1.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalents. A family abstaining from flying to hotter countries every other holiday will do a massive environmental heroic deed. Take the train if you want to go somewhere, or use the Internet to talk with people in other countries.
3. Not Having a Car
I don’t have a driver’s license, and I never want to get one. When I tell people this, most look at me like I’m a lunatic from Mars. But what’s crazy is not a guy who doesn’t want to drive, but the idea that every single human should possess and use one of the most environmentally destructive machines on the planet. Even having an electric car won’t get us very far on the roadtrip to sustainability, because the production alone uses loads of resources. Living car free saves you 2.4 tonnes of CO2-equivalents every single year.
4. Having No Kids
Of all things one can do to live environmentally friendly, one simple action is superior to all others. Having no children. The Swedish scientists estimates that one saves a stunning 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalents per child if one lives in the minority world, that is “developed” countries. This is not just because the child most likely will lead a life that requires tonnes of greenhouse gases, but that child will most likely have other children, and so on.
What should Christians think about these findings? Obviously, some Christians deny climate change altogether, but they are a tiny minority globally and do so not for theological reasons, as I explain in the video below:
As for Christians who do accept the reality of climate change, they ought to consider what really emits most greenhouse gases as described above. Even though it might be impractical for many richer Christians to abstain from air travel and cars, we have no theological reason to hold on to them.
The Bible doesn’t mention planes or automobiles. If it turns out that the usage of them in this time and age actually is harmful to other people, as the Swedish study suggests, then we should avoid using them.
The Bible does talk about meat and children though, quite extensively. And since it does not forbid eating meat or having kids, many Christians are naturally hostile to the idea that this is something we should give up.
My fiancée Sarah has previously written on PCPJ on why Christians ought to be vegan even if there is no biblical command. Not because God or the Bible has changed, but because the world has. See, eating meat every single day is an extreme diet that has hardly existed outside of royal courts previously, and nowadays over one billion people eat like this. As 70% of global farmlands are used to grow food to animals, this creates a high pressure on resource availability.
As for having children, this is only an environmental problem if they live as unsustainably as Western people typically do. And since Western people typically live that way, their children most likely will. While having children in an of itself is not immoral, and while it’s theoretically possible that one’s kids will not nurture climate change, in reality this is very often what actually happens.
Thus, the safest way to steward God’s creation is to, in this time and age, to abstain from these things. And when we don’t, we ought to compensate. But forget focusing on lamps and recycling. Those have never been environmental game-changers, and the green movement has brought a huge disservice to itself by focusing on such trifles.
Micael Grenholm is editor for PCPJ. Having studied theology as well as peace and development studies in Uppsala, Sweden, Micael Grenholm’s passion is to combine charismatic spirituality with activism for peace and justice. Apart from editing pcpj.org he vlogs for the YouTube channel Holy Spirit Activism and is active with evangelism and apologetics both locally and online.