The Controversy About Your Carbon Footprint Explained

On this corner of the internet, we talk very often about our carbon footprint, how it’s liked to the clothes we wear, how to reduce it and whether or not carbon offsets are the way out of the climate crisis.

But, did you know that this concept is becoming a very controversial one in the realm of green activism? I’m telling you, I’ve witnessed pretty heated arguments about it via passive-aggressive IG comments.

I think most of us learnt about our ecological footprints in school and it was probably our introduction to environmentalism and sustainable living. So now, learning how this whole idea of a carbon footprint came to be and how it’s been used in sneaky ways is kind of strange.

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

What is a carbon footprint?

Your individual carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that your lifestyle creates. And everyone and everything has a carbon footprint: our clothes, our food, our businesses,…

Then, shouldn’t the carbon footprint be called GHG footprint or something along those lines? Yeah, probably, but here is where things get interesting.

The concept of ecological footprint is almost 30 years old and it includes indicators such as carbon footprint, water footprint and land footprint.

And then, in 2005, the carbon footprint part caught the attention of a marketing team. They decided to teach people all over the world the meaning of this concept, they created tools to calculate it (the first-ever carbon footprint calculator) and started showing them ways to reduce it – you know it, don’t drive, take the bike, eat less meat, all that.

Now, the funny part is that this marketing team was working for BP – yes, the same BP that’s on the list of the 100 companies responsible for over 70% of global industrial emissions and the same one that used to be a member of the Global Climate Coalition, a lobby that was big on climate change skepticism.

The audacity.

And here I have another fun fact for you. BP ranks 5th on the list of the most environmentally responsible mining, oil and gas companies in the world. I’m not saying this to make them look good, I just want us to sit here for a min and reflect on this massive oxymoron. How environmentally responsible can an oil company be?

Now, back to our topic.

So here is the issue with individual carbon footprints

Recently, the idea of assigning individuals a carbon footprint came under fire because it was born (and continues to be used) as a tool used by big corporations to shift the responsibility to make changes to consumers and individuals while they continue business as usual.

This means that while BP 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, and to bring all your reusables with you at all times.

This is gaslighting and a greenwashy behavior we have seen before. And having this burden on our shoulders makes us sink into that eco-anxiety and eco-guilt we all know too well.

And then we get to the conversation around carbon offsets. A whole thing. I’ve praised them for a long time because I do think they’re a good idea to compensate for the emissions we can’t avoid creating – both by individuals and businesses. But then we run into the same wall: we’re taxing individuals while we let big corporations escape free of accountability. They can afford making changes and buying offsets, so shouldn’t they be carrying this weight?

Making individuals carry a responsabiity that isn’t theirs isn’t a cute look.

Objectively, if I live my most sustainable life, my environmental impact isn’t going to affect the bigger picture nearly as much as a big business making a small change for a day.

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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