Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mentally Dealing with Carbon Footprints

Confession: The notion of a "carbon footprint" has been troubling my thoughts for some time now. You've probably encountered a variety of carbon-footprint calculators like this one or that one.

But what does it mean to say that I'm responsible for emitting 15 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere? Does that inspire and motivate behavioral changes to reduce our negative impact on the environment?

I don't think so.

For starters, this information is way too abstract. I've tried but failed repeatedly to imagine what a ton of carbon would look like. There's simply no direct connection to my five senses (and really, using one sense could probably do the trick).

Second, many of these carbon-footprint calculators don't tailor their suggestions to consumers. It reminds me of the one-size-fits-all mentality, which I think overlooks the actual complexities of this issue.

My third complaint is that all of these eco-calculators are mentally taxing on the brain. They require that we all keep the following logic firmly held in place, when really, our attention spans are remarkably short. Here's the logic, which I've paraphrased below:

A. Climate change reflects average temperatures that are on the rise*, which negatively affects the planet.

B. We can measure how much you contribute to climate change by calculating a carbon footprint. The carbon footprint indicates how much CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) you personally emit into the atmosphere.

C. In turn, this computed carbon footprint shows your impact on climate change.

And this is where the real break-down in communication comes in, and that's what to do about your so-called carbon footprint. This is the one-size-fits-all strategy: Use less energy.

Isn't this issue a wee-bit more complicated? What are your thoughts about the carbon footprint?
* To pose a direction on climate change (i.e., average temperatures are on the rise), we neglect the alternate possibility of cooler temperatures occurring across various locations on the planet.


Jenny said...

I have a problem with all the carbon footprint calculators: they only hold you responsible for the the contributions you make yourself. The biggest problem we face now is overpopulation. But a carbon footprint doesn't hold you accountable for the waste generated by the people you create yourself, which you should be. How many tons of garbage does a human being create over the course of a lifetime? How much gasoline does one person burn? How much second-hand smoke does one smoker generate (as a former smoker, I would guess a LOT)?

If you want to minimize your carbon footprint, DON'T HAVE KIDS. Minimize your own impact, of course, but the most responsible thing you can do is to refrain from reproducing. You need a kid? Adopt. There are tons of them out there that need good homes.

Of course, this is easy for me to say. My husband and I have absolutely no desire to have kids. We'd rather have margaritas, enjoy our weekends, retire early, and sleep. But if I ever did get the mothering bug, I'd be heading straight to an orphanage.

ruee said...

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