Researchers analysed 18 carbon-cutting measures at home and at work in areas such as food, transport and energy and assessed the impact of each on issues such as health, clean air and water quality. Of the 306 categories they looked at, 79 % were positive for wellbeing. Tom Bawden discusses the study in an article on the inews website. Two of the authors, Yamina Saheb and Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, are friends of EiD.
Living a net zero life has huge benefits for personal wellbeing, new study shows
The dramatic changes people are required to make to cut their carbon footprints are often presented as sacrifices – but in fact a green lifestyle is very good for us indeed, a new study shows.
Researchers analysed 18 carbon-cutting measures at home and at work in areas such as food, transport and energy and assessed the impact of each on issues such as health, clean air and water quality.
Of the 306 categories they looked at, 79 per cent were positive for wellbeing, 18 per cent were neutral and only 3 per cent were negative.
At home, the only negative categories were the potential for a slight decline in education with more online learning and a minor decrease in personal security for people using ‘ridesourcing’ services, which connect drivers with passengers on apps.
Meanwhile, the rest were all good for our wellbeing, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Communications.
“Our research demonstrates that many lifestyle choices not only reduce climate impact but also improve quality of life. This is based on careful evaluation of well-being effects,” Felix Creutzig, of Technische Universität Berlin, told i.
“A key example is the choice of walking and cycling. More active mobility improves life expectancy significantly and is also related to high happiness – contrasting with being stuck in congestion.”
“Another key example is a shift to more plant-based diets. The consumption of meat increases the risk of heart diseases, and eating more vegan food leads to a more healthy life. Meanwhile, choosing electric cars instead of fossil-fuel based machines benefits yourself and your co-citizens by reducing local air pollution – though cycling is even better, for yourself and for air quality,” added Dr Creutzig.
Furthermore, retrofitting houses with heat pumps and other green renovations will create thousands of new jobs in the next decades.
Less material intensive product cycles, for example by 3-D printing of new housing units, will make also industry more service oriented and save resources, he said.
Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, of Bath University, who was not involved in the research said: “This is a really, really significant paper.”
She said she was alarmed by Boris Johnson’s introduction to the UK’s Net Zero Strategy in October in which he wrote “we can build back greener, without so much as a hair shirt in sight”.
“He was basically saying ‘we don’t really want to change people’s behaviour very much beyond encouraging them to buy an electric vehicle and maybe a heat pump, engaging with technology’ – when all the evidence shows we will need to change people’s lifestyles quite profoundly”, she said.
“But the good news is – as this report makes clear – we don’t have to sacrifice our wellbeing. In fact, you can improve wellbeing by reducing emissions,” said Professor Whitmarsh, who advises the Department for Transport and the House of Lords on environmental behaviour.
“There is growing evidence that the assumption that behavioural and lifestyle change will mean that we have to sacrifice wellbeing is wrong and that it’s exactly the opposite – that you improve wellbeing by reducing emissions.”
“Low carbon lifestyles will improve health, it will improve mental wellbeing, it will create green jobs and potentially improve equality,” she said.
And while green living may be more expensive in some cases, in the short term, their will be a net financial benefit overall, she argues.
“On price, some sustainable choices are cheaper – such as avoiding travel, switching from car to walking or cycling and cutting food waste.”
“While it’s true that currently new technologies, like electric vehicles and heat pumps, cost more – their cost is rapidly coming down and their running costs are also lower. So the cost barriers will soon be overcome.
Furthermore, as Dr Creutzig’s paper shows, the economic impacts are positive overall because they create new jobs in green sectors, offsetting job losses in fossil fuel industries, she said.
Sir David King, the former government chief scientist, added: “The industrial revolution was a major economic boost to the world and this is another major wealth creating opportunity.”