Category: Positive Actions

Why ‘have fewer children’ is really bad climate advice

Last week a report published advice to ‘have one fewer child‘ as part of a report on how governments and schools are failing to promote the most effective ways that individuals can fight climate change. They also produced some pretty eye watering estimates on how much having a child adds to our carbon footprint. Aside from the slightly awkward English, this sort of advice always sets my teeth on edge, for a number of reasons.

It’s the breeders problem!

Firstly, the advice means that a proportion of the population that will sit back and say  – ‘I have no children, therefore I’ve done my bit. It’s the breeders that are the problem, not me!’. They will generally then dust their hands off and hop on a flight to The Bahamas or somewhere, safe in the knowledge that they are really part of the solution, regardless of what they choose to do.

This is of course neither true, nor helpful. The advice in the report is aimed at young people, who haven’t yet had children. If any young person were to have fewer children entirely because of the climate impact, then there would undoubtedly be long term carbon savings. But this doesn’t sound like a realistic view of the average young person’s view of procreation to me! I would also expect that the group of young prospective parents who decide not to have a child because of the climate change impact would be minuscule, and doing all the other positive things to fight climate change already. If you fit that bill, please write and tell me.

Most people don’t have children for many, many other reasons, and climate change doesn’t figure at all. And here’s the rub: if there was no conscious decision to reduce your child count because of climate change, you can’t claim the carbon savings. Even if you choose to do this (and I applaud it), it is still necessary that every single human now alive needs to be living a two tonne lifestyle, if we are to beat climate change.

I already have children – so what now?

The advice is pretty unhelpful for those of us who already have children. It may be possible to be bowed down with the guilt of having brought more children in the world, but I’m not. I see them as a positive for the future. I  suspect that most of us wouldn’t regret having our children for a minute. Well, not most of the time anyway…..well, at least when they are being lovely….let’s move on….

Giving advice to people that they can’t possibly fulfil simply fuels a feeling of helplessness. In this case, it is even more damaging, because…..

The carbon footprint is way overstated

The study took the average US carbon footprint of each adult, and average life expectancy, and applied 50% of the lifetime carbon footprint of each child (half to each parent), 25% to each grandchild, and so forth until the line eventually runs out. So the annual carbon footprint of a child in the report includes a forecast of immense proportions, spread over a period of 150 years or more. Should parents really be held responsible for children’s choice for the whole of their lives? Aren’t children somewhat important to the survival of the race? And doesn’t that mean that by ‘front loading’ multiple lifetime emissions in this way onto the parents mean that the children effectively have no carbon footprint (because the parents have picked up the tab for generations to come?) It simply doesn’t make sense to express carbon of generations of offspring as an annual amount in this way.

The main issue I have with the calculation, however, is the assumption that parents are living an ‘average’ life in terms of carbon footprint, and that their children will continue to live in the same way for hundreds of years. In the case of my family of five, I know that our household carbon footprint for five people is around half of that for one ‘average’  American. We are close to a climate compatible lifestyle at around 3 tonnes per year. So that changes the calculation considerably, and drops the footprint by around 4/5ths when you work it out per person. This is what we know we have to do, if we don’t want our children and grandchildren to all be wiped out by runaway climate change, of course. ( Total future wipeout would make the ‘generational footprint’ a lot lower, but who would care about that then?!)

The Over Population Myth all over again

The common held belief that population is driving climate change seems to be behind all this. And I do believe it is a myth that warrants a whole post to itself in the near future, as it’s one I hear all the time as an excuse for not doing anything. For now, let me put it this way: if Oxfam are correct that the top 10% of the global population produce 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions, then it remains deeply unfair to blame the other 90% (where most of the increases occur) for the problems caused mostly by overconsumption, and in which they have had little or no part.

Til next time.


Five tips for saving £1000s AND slashing your carbon footprint

In Paris this week every country in the world agreed that it is critical to limit global warming. Far from being expensive and difficult, my own experience is that living the low carbon lifestyle we all need to make this goal a reality is very easy. Yesterday, I outlined how I saved £80k through living a low carbon, two tonne lifestyle. Today I’m sharing some top tips for how you might actually go about this. Here they are:

Buy what you need

Most of us buy a load of crap that we don’t really need. This tends to make us poorer, and keep us in debt. We spend longer working as a result. Long hours and years in a job we might not enjoy can leave us feeling in need of a treat….and so it goes on. If we let it, it can actually go on until we can’t work anymore! It is possible – and easy – to save huge amounts of cash simply by replacing these expensive  ‘consolation prizes’ with other treats that cost little or nothing.

Get a Five Year Plan

It’s easy to drift along and be tempted by the expensive buy junky comfort purchases if you don’t have a plan.  But if you set out where you want to be in five years time,  you will have a lot more impetus. A plan might be to get debt free; or to give up work; or to have saved £30k for a child’s education. Your goals will be your own, and your methods will be too, but knowing where you want to be is a great way of avoiding the drift. If you have a plan, everything is possible.

If you want to save it, count it

You can’t save what you don’t count. So, if you get an idea of how much you spend now, you can start to reduce it over time. I developed the Home Cost Tracker to keep an eye on household fuel bills and carbon footprint, and it has really worked well for me. My fuel bills are less than half the national average. Simply being aware of how much your household spends each month can be a huge driver to change habits and drive down those unnecessary overheads.

Start a war on waste

We have all become ridiculously, jaw-droppingly wasteful. As soon as you key into this fact, you start saving. From leaving the heating on all year round to chucking away all of those buy one get one free deals that went mouldy at the back of the fridge, the money you can save by not wasting shit is amazing. It could be the gym subscription that takes a chunk of cash every month, or the old banger of a car that only cost £500 to buy, but burns £4000 in diesel and repairs each year. If you want to get a handle on where you might be wasting cash, try out our two tonne savings calculator.

Design out costs and carbon from your life

One of the big costs here is often the daily commute to work. It isn’t always possible to get a job close to home, of course. But, also, it’s worth considering how much you really earn from work. It may be that a high paying job increases your working day and commuting costs by so much that you’d be better off in a lower paid job that was closer to home.  If you add in child care costs, it can sometimes not be worth working at all. It’s also worth ensuring that the things you buy are not going to cost you much more in the medium term. Check that the running costs of your new gismo don’t massively outweigh any purchase price saving. Here’s a great little tool that can help.

I hope that these help you get started. Remember that all of these things can help you be better off and also do a huge amount to combat climate change. If you want more information, drop us an email or leave a comment. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be posting more articles about how you can save a tonne of cash and a tonne of carbon through sustainable living. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay updated.

Watch me explaining how reducing costs and reducing your carbon footprint go together in the brand new LiveLight Video.