London - Recycling, washing clothes at 30C and switching to energy saving bulbs are all touted as ways to help the environment.
But if you really want to save the planet, one of the best ways is to not have children, according to a study.
Researchers said that bringing new life into the world is easily the most destructive thing you can do to the environment.
By not having a child, the carbon footprint of an individual living in a developed country would be reduced on average by an extra 58.6 tons of carbon dioxide every year, based on current emission rates. This is the biggest impact of all possible actions you could take.
The team from Sweden’s Lund University came to this conclusion after conducting an analysis of the things individuals can do to produce less greenhouse gases.
But they found that while we are told to recycle, no government in the western world is advising its citizens to limit their number of offspring.
The study found that the other three main choices people can make in order to cut the amount of carbon dioxide they produce are to eat less meat, get rid of their car, and fly less.
After analysing 39 studies and government reports assessing the impact individual lifestyle choices make on reducing CO2 levels, the researchers concluded that many of the ‘green’ activities governments recommend – such as recycling or fitting energy-saving bulbs – only make small reductions.
Lead author Seth Wynes – who does not have any children – said: "There are so many factors that affect the climate impact of personal choices, but bringing all these studies side-by-side gives us confidence we’ve identified actions that make a big difference.
"We found there are four actions that could result in substantial decreases in an individual’s carbon footprint: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families."
He added that these actions "have much greater potential to reduce emissions than commonly promoted strategies".
For example, recycling is four times less effective at reducing greenhouse gases than eating a plant-based diet, while using energy-saving bulbs is eight times less effective.
Living car-free saves about 2.4 tons of CO2 equivalent per year, while eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tons.
The impact of having a child is calculated by factoring in not only the extra impact of the child, but also that of their potential future descendants.