I just read a very interesting article in The New Yorker titled Big Foot. This article discusses the complexities of computing this elusive individualistic, often pointless, abstract concept called “carbon footprint.” The article begins by discussing the massive British supermarket chain Tesco and their goal of putting a carbon contribution label on every product they sell. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Tesco was taking climate change so seriously. However, as the article moved on it became apparent that Tesco had no idea how complex it would be to accurately label their product’s carbon contribution. The article also questions whether this is the best method to react to climate change. The article discusses in detail the power of using economics to control the problem by creating a carbon emissions marker. The article continues to explain how important the tropical rain forests are as a carbon sponge and if we just paid Indonesia and Brazil to keep their forests intact we would have the battle half won. Here is an excerpt:
From both a political and an economic perspective, it would be easier and cheaper to reduce the rate of deforestation than to cut back significantly on air travel. It would also have a far greater impact on climate change and on social welfare in the developing world. Possessing rights to carbon would grant new power to farmers who, for the first time, would be paid to preserve their forests rather than destroy them. Unfortunately, such plans are seen by many people as morally unattractive. “The whole issue is tied up with the misconceived notion of ‘carbon colonialism,’ ” Niles told me. “Some activists do not want the Third World to have to alter their behavior, because the problem was largely caused by us in the West.”
This sounds like a sound argument to me. The West pays the less developed countries to not cut down the forests. However, this solution does not address the overarching problem of our overly consumptive lifestyle.I like how this article discusses ways we as a society can try to respond to global warming and not lay all this focus on the individual’s decisions. It may sound like I am trying to justify my own “carbon footprint” but in reality this notion of the carbon footprint takes the focus away from finding larger solutions and attempts to lay a guilt trip on the people. This is a much more complex issue and we cannot rely on individual’s guilt to address it. I strongly recommend reading this article if you are interested in this topic.