Every choice you make is a vote

The climate crisis has a deadline. It always had. Only now, time is running out real fast.

In this post I want to make clear that every single one of us makes an impact with every single choice we make. For society is the sum of every action of every individual. Every choice you make is a vote for the world you want to live in. 

I also want to give you some numbers to give you a frame of reference of the extent in which our lifestyles will have to change. 

I do not want to be paternalistic. All of these numbers and pieces of advice feel like people are brutally forcing you to do something. Like I am forcing you. And people don't like that. Truth is, I find it confronting too. 
But do we really have a choice but change? Knowing what we know, can we decide to look the other way for the sole reason that it makes life easier, for a very short while? 

To be able to turn things around and create a sustainable, balanced world, policy changes will have to be made. And they will have to be big and bold. The fact that policy makers will have to make these tough choices, doesn't mean the rest of us can sit back and relax. Each and everyone of has the possibility to give a politician more (or less) power. By voting. By making your voice heard. 

Next to the political actions that'll have to be taken, we can (and should) all start making lifestyle changes. Recycling and energy efficient light bulbs are great ways to start, but they are in no way enough. 
A recent study (published 12th of July 2017) shows that carbon emissions must fall to two tonnes of CO2 per person by 2050 to avoid severe global warming. That is a really big change since US and Australia emissions are currently 16 tonnes per person, the Netherlands are at 10 tonnes per person, Belgium is at 8 tonnes per person.

Which lifestyle changes will have the most impact? 

Graphic made by Jorn | Source: Wynes & Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters

This gives us a fairly good idea of the things we need to start doing in order to reach our goal. To simplify it with an example: I'm Belgian, so let's take the average Belgian creating 8 tonnes of CO2 per year. He needs to get to 2 tonnes or less per year in order to avoid severe global warming. So he needs to cut 6 tonnes. He could sell his car (2,4), not take a planned transatlantic trip (1,6), buy green energy (1,47) and become a vegetarian (0,82). That's, 6,29 tonnes saved. That's all hard changes. But not undoable. 

The study had one very shocking finding though. Apart from the impact of actions visualized above, the impact of having one fewer child is 58,6 tonnes per year.

Graphic made by Jorn | Source: Wynes & Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters

Graphic made by Jorn | Source: Wynes & Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters

The impact of one child was calculated by adding up the emissions of the child and all their descendants, then dividing this total by the parent’s lifespan. Each parent was ascribed 50% of the child’s emissions, 25% of their grandchildren’s emissions and so on.

The scientists stressed that every lifestyle choice is a deeply personal one. But that it is their job to give an honest report of the data. 

Lets prioritize our values and starting defending them. For me personally, ruling out the option of having children is something I don't want to think about. This is core to being human for me. But that means we have to drastically change our other lifestyle choices. That means we have to change the bigger system creating these lifestyles. And we don't have any time to lose. 

I love this quote I heard a while ago: "Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life." 
The way I interpret it, is that if we can make hard lifestyle choices, if we find the courage to step up to big corporations, if we dare to defend our values against the dominant cultural opinion, then our life will eventually be easier. We will be able to hold our head up high. We will be able to look in the mirror without guilt. That is an easy life, at least for me.


  • This blogpost is inspired by an article of The Guardian I read: 
  • Which is based on this study: The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions - Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024
  • Overview of CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita): https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?view=map