If you don’t like measuring your carbon footprint, report how much you fund extraction and lobbying

April 19, 2024 by Joshua
in Addiction, Leadership, Nature, Nonjudgment

The first result on a search on bp carbon footprint was a Guardian opinion piece Big oil coined ‘carbon footprints’ to blame us for their greed. Keep them on the hook which linked to a piece in Mashsable The carbon footprint sham: A ‘successful, deceptive’ PR campaign. That piece begins:

In a dark TV ad aired in 1971, a jerk tosses a bag of trash from a moving car. The garbage spills onto the moccasins of a buckskin-clad Native American, played by Italian American actor Espera Oscar de Corti. He sheds a tear on camera(opens in a new tab), because his world has been defiled, uglied, and corrupted by trash. The poignant ad, which won awards for excellence in advertising(opens in a new tab), promotes the catchline “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.” What’s lesser known is the nonprofit group Keep America Beautiful, funded by the very beverage and packaging juggernauts(opens in a new tab) pumping out billions of plastic bottles(opens in a new tab) each year (the likes of The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Anheuser-Busch Companies), created the PSA.

The real message, underlying the staged tear and feather headdress, is that pollution is your problem, not the fault of the industry mass-producing cheap bottles.

Another heralded environmental advertising campaign, launched three decades later in 2000, also won a laudatory advertising award(opens in a new tab), a “Gold Effie.” The campaign impressed upon the American public that a different type of pollution, heat-trapping carbon pollution(opens in a new tab), is also your problem, not the problem of companies drilling deep into the Earth for, and then selling, carbonaceous fuels refined from ancient, decomposed creatures. British Petroleum, the second largest non-state owned oil company in the world, with 18,700 gas and service stations worldwide(opens in a new tab), hired the public relations professionals Ogilvy & Mather to promote the slant that climate change is not the fault of an oil giant, but that of individuals.

It’s here that British Petroleum, or BP, first promoted and soon successfully popularized the term “carbon footprint” in the early aughts. The company unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life — going to work, buying food, and (gasp) traveling — is largely responsible for heating the globe.

and it ends

BP wants you to accept responsibility for the globally disrupted climate. Just like beverage industrialists wanted people to feel bad about the amassing pollution created by their plastics and cans, or more sinisterly, tobacco companies blamed smokers for becoming addicted to addictive carcinogenic products(opens in a new tab). We’ve seen this manipulative playbook before, and BP played it well.

What’s your carbon footprint?

“They were brilliant,” said Marlon. “They had good marketers.”

While I agree with a lot of what they say about holding companies responsible and am inclined to believe that BP was trying to distract people from their actions, I disagree with people saying that acting more sustainably ourselves, including tracking our pollution, distracts from focusing on the corporations. I don’t think trying to stop smoking oneself distracts from holding tobacco companies responsible for marketing to children or making their cigarettes more addictive.

In other words, I think the people angry at BP are buying into a false dichotomy where I see a synergy. If you want an orchestra to play well together, it helps for each musician to practice their own instrument. Also, their deflection of looking at their personal behavior fits so closely into the widespread, rampant rationalizations and justifications people use for their polluting and depleting behavior, it looks too much to me like they’re trying to avoid acting themselves.

Another Approach: How Much Are You Funding Your Opposition?

Twenty dollar bill

Personally, I think polluting and depleting hurt innocent people. Whether or not we can change anyone else, wouldn’t we want to avoid hurting innocent people? As it turns out, I believe we can lead and influence others when we live by our values better than when we don’t. Furthermore, experience shows that for people who read and write those articles, polluting and depleting less will improve their lives. They act like it’s a sacrifice or hardship. I respectfully believe they don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re so dependent on flying and other polluting, depleting activities that they try to convince themselves that their polluting and depleting don’t hurt others.

From my perspective, lowering their personal polluting and depleting will triply (or more) improve their lives:

  • They’ll live more by their values, creating meaning, purpose, liberation, joy, and more
  • They’ll be able to lead and influence others more, including BP
  • They’ll enjoy life more, becoming closer to family, nature, community, and more

But say they don’t want to look at their carbon footprint still. I’m not a big fan of just looking at carbon, as I describe in my post Only specify fixing climate and carbon if you want to wreck everything else (forests, biodiversity, rivers, etc) because that happens when you do. so I try to look at total impact.

But I bet even the most ardent supporter of the view not to look at one’s own carbon footprint would agree that we shouldn’t fund polluting, depleting, and lobbying for more of it. Here’s an easy measure of that activity: how much money do you spend on industries that extract, pollute, deplete, and lobby to allow themselves to do more?

You don’t need a complicated online calculator. Just look at your credit card statement, receipts, and where you spend cash. How much do you spend (total and as a fraction of the total) on

  • Airline tickets
  • Your car
  • Filling your gas tank
  • Heating and cooling your home
  • Clothing beyond necessity
  • Doof
  • Disposable things

You get the idea. It’s tempting to say “look at others more than at me” or “I can’t help it” or the like, but you can still answer for yourself that amount. My point isn’t to make people feel guilt or shame. If people are acting against their values, their conscience creates feelings of guilt and shame, not someone else, though calculating how much you fund your opposition may make you more aware of those feelings already inside you. Acting on them is the best way to overcome them, not continuing to deny and suppress them.

My point is to help people improve their lives. If you see polluting and depleting less as worsening your life, you have an internal problem of trying to get people to worsen their lives, including yourself. I suggest the best way to overcome this problem is to learn through experience that it doesn’t worsen your life. When you do, you’ll find there is no contradiction in polluting and depleting less versus leading and influencing corporations to pollute and deplete less.

I invite you on board to the growing community of people who have found polluting and depleting less invigorates us and makes us more enthusiastic. When you join, you’ll be glad you did. You’ll be able to influence others, including corporations, more effectively too.

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