How the Carbon Footprint Lies to Us

Since it’s constantly shoved down our throats, broadcast on daily television, social media, posters, and advertisements, most of us have probably heard of a carbon footprint. 

According to Britannica, the definition of a carbon footprint is the “amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with all the activities of a person or other entity (e.g. building, corporation, country, etc.)”.  
In other words, it explains how everything we do, consume and use results in global warming, climate change, and natural disasters because of the carbon emissions produced - and since the carbon footprint directly links the consumer to the vast and urgent problem of climate change, it created a very unilateral view of reality, which is, quite frankly, not how it is.  

Derived from the term “ecological footprint”, the carbon footprint was a concept developed by William E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel in the 1990s and was popularized by the oil and gas company “BP”.   
Alongside a quiz that offered the answer, the now-famous question “what size is your carbon footprint?” was introduced in their advertising campaign back in 2005. It was very significant as it changed our perspective on the problem that is climate change and made the term what it is today. 

But how did this make a good PR strategy for one of the largest companies in the oil industry? The answer is simple: they wanted the public to think that they were responsible for the ever-deteriorating health of the planet, rather than the companies themselves. This ploy was reliable for them as it allowed them to keep acting on their unsavory ideas without being criticized for it. It shifted the blame onto the public, resulting in them now wondering about their personal impact on the climate, rather than the major issue. 

Because of the idea that climate change depended on the individual choices of the consumer, things such as taking shorter showers, using less electricity, driving less, and buying fewer single-use products now became a priority. While these choices are also beneficial and should be enforced, it is also important to keep in mind that they don’t have as big of an impact compared to the damage that oil companies cause. It is also important to keep into account that there are many structural barriers that don’t allow these choices to be enforced by many people: in many cases, not driving a car or switching to electric cars is not an option – we would have to reorganize whole cities and consider a systemic economic change for that to be possible.  

Companies saw the potential of a more “environmentally conscious public” and found ways of capitalizing off of this new “trend”. The new craze was the color green and catchy phrases such as “eco-friendly” and “sustainable”. 
Companies could now portray themselves as beneficial for the environment without any evidence to prove such a claim – this is called greenwashing 

Every year the European Commission and national consumer authorities conduct a sweep to “identify breaches of EU consumer law in online markets.” 
In 2021, the sweep was focused on the concept of greenwashing: they found that in 42% of the cases, the claims were either exaggerated, false or deceptive – which could potentially qualify as unfair commercial practices under the EU rules. 

The contradictory method of selling a green image manipulates the consumers to buy products that negatively impact the environment. It ultimately indulges consumerism and capitalism: systems that do not prioritize the well-being of the earth.  

Minding one’s carbon footprint does not resolve the climate crisis – instead, the people who profit from the fossil fuel industry have the power relating to which decisions are made. For us to actually do something about the environment and save the earth, we must act collectively and take away the power from the people who are currently benefiting from it, the people whose only concern is what brings in the most money. 
To make this a reality, we don’t only need an engaged, passionate leader, we also need a collective spirit! We should be the ones deciding what resources to use! This decision would not be centralizing profit but would instead aim to benefit the well-being of the planet and the future of our world. 

Julia Bottka WOL-S5SVA