Almost half of all deaths worldwide are caused by unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and related physiological factors such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels and obesity.1
Low-carbon lifestyles can improve health and well-being in three ways:
Active travel - walking or cycling instead of driving - is a great way to improve health, fitness and well-being for the growing number of people with sedentary lifestyles, cutting the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes at the same time as cutting carbon emissions, noise, congestion and pollution. 2 Regular outdoor exercise can also improve mental health and emotional well-being, by reducing tension, anger, confusion and depression. 3 Exercising for 30 minutes at least five times a week cuts all-cause mortality by 30%, and could even help to reduce tobacco cravings.4
2. A low-carbon diet - not over-eating, and replacing over-consumption of processed food, meat and dairy produce with more fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains - can improve health and cut the environmental impacts of food production. Although meat and dairy produce is an important source of nutrition, eating too much can increase levels of saturated fat and increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.5
3. More controversially: less materialistic lifestyles - buying less and working less - can help to reduce stress and improve well-being in affluent societies. Even after a comfortable standard of living has been achieved, many people find themselves on a "hedonic treadmill" where they work ever harder in order to be able to afford more material goods that provide only fleeting satisfaction. Some are now choosing to downshift to a less materialistic way of life that leaves more time for family, friends, community activities and leisure.
Walkers and cyclists are vulnerable to road accidents. It is vital to put in place safe infrastructure such as separate cycle lanes, well-designed road junctions and traffic calming measures, so that road accidents do not increase.
Climate policy that discourages travel by plane or car can reduce well-being by making long-distance holidays or visits to friends and family less affordable.
Local food cuts carbon emissions from transporting food around the globe, but restricting diets to local produce could lead to a less varied, enjoyable and nutritious diet, especially in countries where geographical conditions restrict the range of foods that can be grown.
- Lower-consumption lifestyles would require re-structuring our economies to escape the dependence on continuous growth in material consumption. Economists need to investigate how to make a low-consumption economy work without increasing unemployment. One possible solution involves a basic citizens' income coupled with ecological tax reform (shifting taxes from labour to material goods) and a job guarantee scheme.6
Behaviour change has tremendous potential to tackle climate change at the same time as achieving significant co-benefits for health and the environment, and associated savings in healthcare costs.
However, it is difficult to overcome ingrained habits and behaviour patterns. A strong and co-ordinated approach is needed, including economic incentives, awareness campaigns and regulation. Governments need to ensure that sustainable behaviour is easy, cheap and attractive compared to the alternatives.
- Cleaner air: reduced pollution from fossil fuels
- Sustainable forests, food and farming
- Safer and more secure energy supplies
- Less waste:a resource-efficient economy
- Stronger economy: long-term stability and prosperity
- Summary table
- Comparison of policy options
- A tale of two strategies
- Policy recommendations