Why Changing Individual Behavior Won’t Solve Climate Change
With knowledge and willpower a person can dramatically reduce their environmental footprint. Buy an EV, put solar panels on your roof, stop eating meat, stop flying, have fewer children, etc. If everyone did these, the climate would heal itself. There are a small number of people who make all of these sacrifices, and they are heroes and examples of what’s possible. But most of us, even if we really want to, can’t do all these things. The reasons we can’t do everything sometimes include financial reasons or lack of information. But for me the biggest challenge has been more subtle and virtually insurmountable.
I have been striving to be a climate hero for two decades. I can check off many of the boxes: Solar, EV, organic food… However, if you take the list of things an individual can do to help the climate and rate them from least impactful to most, the two at the top of the list are flying less and having fewer children. I just have not been able to significantly reduce my air travel, despite serious internal conflict and strong intentions to do so.
Undeterred by the misinformation promoted by climate deniers, most people believe climate change is a problem and want to do something about it. On the spectrum of things we can do as individuals to help the climate, usually the ones with the most impact also require the most personal effort. For example, many people go out of their way to recycle. Its something we can do in our everyday life, and its relatively easy. Air travel, on the other hand, is widely known to be one of the biggest contributors to an individual’s carbon footprint, but few, are able to eliminate their air travel.
A single flight can generate more CO2 than everything else an individual does in a year. See, for example, this article about the relative carbon footprint of air travelers versus non-air travelers. You can try to take only direct flights, which reduces the pollution from an individual flight as compared to an indirect flight which has to fly more total miles in order to transport you the same net distance. But…