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The reality of the carbon footprint

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

For many of us who are climate-conscious, the term 'carbon footprint' is a familiar one. For those who aren't, a carbon footprint is a way to measure the greenhouse gasses that an individual emits. While the idea of measuring your carbon footprint is virtuous—it's a way to personally reduce climate change—the story behind it isn't.

Greenhouse gas emissions from factory

The carbon footprint first began in the early 2000s when BP, one of the world’s top oil companies, came up with the idea as part of its new advertising campaign. From the beginning, their goal was not to save the climate. Rather, they wanted to convince the public that individuals, not large corporations, were truly responsible for climate change.

But why does the origin of the carbon footprint matter? Figuring out one's carbon footprint allows us to better protect the environment, right? In reality, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from 100 corporations. It's incorrect and harmful to blame the consumer when the actual issue is the avarice of big business. But what can you do? Corporations are blaming you for their own misdeeds, and there's nothing that you as an individual can do, right? While it's easy to lose hope and believe that you can't make a difference, there are ways that you can contribute to the fight against climate change. The true answer lies in collective action and advocacy. Write letters to your representatives, sign petitions, protest, and, importantly, vote with your dollars. If you can, try not to purchase from companies whose values don't align with yours or whose actions directly destroy our planet.

And what of the carbon footprint? The idea of a carbon footprint is good in principle. It promotes sustainability and is a way for us to truly get a sense of our own impact on the climate. In reality, though, it is a small step in the fight against climate change and does little to help compared to other forms of advocacy. Calculating your carbon footprint and changing your behavior because of it is not a bad thing, but it’s important to remember what truly helps: collective action and fighting against corporations. Most importantly, however, make sure to never lose hope. That's what corporations want the most.

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