Does your carbon footprint actually matter? A story of corporate gaslighting


Well, so this is awkward. Around here, we talk pretty often about our carbon footprint, how it’s liked to the clothes we wear and to the things we buy, what we can do to reduce it, and how carbon offsets are there to help us cover those areas that we can’t reduce.

And today we’re here to rip that whole idea apart. Confused? So are we.

When we were in elementary school, carbon footprints were the peak of environmentalism. They really had a class of baby tree huggers count how many times a week they ate chicken and blame themselves for not taking the bus to school.

The more you learn about the background of the concept of carbon footprints, the weirder the concept of carbon footprint becomes at the more it reeks of indoctrination.

There’s a lot of unpack, so let’s dive into it.

What is a carbon footprint?

The concept of ecological footprint was first used in the 1990s and it’s used to track and measure the capacity of ecosystems to regenerate what humans use from them (this is called biocapacity). It includes metrics of water, energy, materials, land, etc.

The idea of carbon footprints is kind of related to this. Carbon footprint is the volume of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that an activity (or an organisation, a country or a person) produces. It’s our impact on the planet and all the resources that it has.

Everyone and everything has a carbon footprint: our clothes, our food, our holidays, our hobbies, our jobs,… You get it.

So your individual carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions that your lifestyle creates.

Here’s where the fun starts

In 2005, the carbon footprint part caught the attention of a specific marketing team. They decided to teach people all over the world what an individual carbon footprint was, they created the first-ever carbon footprint calculator to allow them to measure it, and they were nice enough to even suggest lifestyle changes that could help them reduce it. Eat less chicken, take the bus to school.

That marketing team happened to be working for BP. Who would have guessed that! The same BP that’s on the list of the 100 companies that are responsible for over 70% of global industrial emissions. They were also members of the Global Climate Coalition, a lobby that was big on climate change denial. 🙃

Fossil fuel dealers literally had our 8-year-old selves judge ourselves for wrapping our recess snacks in plastic.

BP’s PR has always been amusing, I’ll give that to them. They rank 5th on the list of the most environmentally responsible mining, oil and gas companies in the world, which is just a massive oxymoron.

“Does my individual carbon footprint matter?”

Yes and no. But yes. But no. Sorta.

Today, the conversation about assigning individuals carbon footprints is as hot as a post-industrial summer. The TL;DR is that individual carbon footprints are a tool used by big corporations to shift our attention.

This means that while a number of fossil fuel corporations extracts a couple of million barrels of crude per day all around the world, you’re urged to change all your light bulbs to LED, to never fly, go vegan for the planet and only shop second hand.

I don’t think can be considered greenwashing – I think it’s straight-up gaslighting.

And then we get to carbon offsets. A whole thing as well. We’ve praised them for a long time around here because the premise is good: compensate the emissions that can’t be avoided or reduced. Both individuals and businesses can purchase carbon offsets. But then we run into the same wall: we’re using the same standard for individuals and companies, and they’re not the same.

Pinning the responsibility on us isn’t a cute look.

Even if the entire country started living as sustainably as possible, the positive impact we would create looks like a grain of sand compared to all the good that could come from one big corporate titan changing its business model.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t care about individual actions?

I don’t think so. I truly belive that every teeny tiny change you make has an impact and can inspire others to live more sustainably.

That’s why I do encourage you to take an environmental footprint test (I love this one by WWF and this very detailed one). Once you know which areas of your life take the largest part of your carbon cake, you can do something with the certainty that your actions will actually have an impact. And of course, you can do the same with your water and plastic footprints.

But don’t let the results bring you down. The footprint of living a modern life is super high and you’re not the one to blame.

This means that we need to make bigger changes that make it possible and accessible for everyone to lower their footprint. This means moving towards a circular economy, having governments invest in renewables, phase out fossil fuels,…

This is not about you making changes you’re not comfortable with, not at all, it’s about pushing the ones that can make a large impact to put planet and people over profit.

So you can start by making individual changes and then you can address the bigger picture. Maybe you can sign a petition to hold your government or a specific corporation accountable, you can participate in the next protest in your area, or ask your favorite fashion brand #WhoMadeMyClothes.

No act of activism is too small, and yours can start by learning about your carbon footprint.

What do you think?

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