Friday, November 23, 2007

Global, Ecological. Moral and Carbon footprints.


Seen above is the footprints of a migratory shore bird on the windward shore. How simple huh? This post today isn't simple at all, and as i sit here about to publish it i wonder if it makes any sense at all or if its just rambling madness. Anyway here goes:
Over the past few years there has been much talk about the "Carbon Footprint", and recently they have become the most widely and commonly used two word phrase on the planet which i guess is a good thing. Over the next few days i hope to explain what a person's or organization's carbon foot print actually is as well as to explain the more important but less uttered "Ecological Footprint". I will also try to show how people and organizations have been trying to control their footprints and more common on the larger scale, "offset" their footprint. It's all very interesting and worth so much more thought and action.

The media has taken on the Carbon Footprint as the main catch phrase closely followed by "Carbon Offsets", and there are probably many people out there thinking of saving the planet only in terms of reducing carbon emissions. What exactly is a carbon footprint? If you look on the web you will find several definitions varying in complexity. The best and most simple definition of a carbon footprint that i have seen is the amount of green house gasses (most significantly carbon dioxide) that a person or organization produces. Of course it gets way more technical than that, but that's a good working definition. To give you a definition of "carbon footprint" that is a little more complex i point you to a fantastic site http://www.footprintnetwork.org/ where they explain it as: "The carbon Footprint therefore measures the demand on bio capacity that results from burning fossil fuels in terms of the amount of forest area required to sequester these carbon dioxide emissions." Hmm.....

Ok so lets just say that we will keep it simple and just say that its all about how much green house gas you or your organization emit. This definition and media obsession with it, is slightly misleading when thinking about the bigger picture which ultimately is described in terms of a person's or organization's "Ecological Footprint". I am going to speak about Ecological Footprint in a moment, but first i should speak a little more about Carbon Footprint. Why do i and many others think that only caring about Carbon Footprint can be a terrible thing for the planet. Lets take the example of Jane Doe. Jane is so happy because she has just purchased a hybrid car that has the lowest emissions of any other on the market. She tells all her friends that they should do like she does and drive a hybrid. What Jane doesn't know is that there are many other ways that she could control the amount of green house gasses being emitted into the environment. There are also way more footprints to think about too. Jane lives on the North Eastern Seaboard in a old house with poor insulation, her heating bill is extremely high during the winter but the house is a historical gem. Its a nice big town only 45 minutes from the city where she works. In the summer she cranks that AC and its lovely. She is very style conscious and actually read about the hybrid she purchased while reading Cosmo. She loves those Italian shoes. Who doesn't right? She gets two new pairs of leather shoes each year. Clothes, and accessories are her weakness she says. She loves Gap fashions too, especially their jeans. I guess because of her fashion savvy she knew about sushi before all her friends and knows all the best places. Each week she eats out and sushi is her fave but she also likes a good steak now and then. Takeout is so easy in where she lives and those handy little boxes the Chinese comes in are so cute. You gotta put the leftovers in zip locks though because the boxes will leak in the fridge if you are not careful. Once in a while she will go for a good big mac too with extra tomatoes. She's not overweight though, because she goes to that nice gym every morning where she changes into her Nike shoes and outfit and works up a sweat, and again in the evening for a swim in their pool. She only drinks bottled water in the day too. She has just booked her flight to Brazil where she has an apartment. She can't wait to be in the real warmth of Copacabana. Rio's hot nights are not to bad though as her place has good AC. Skiing in Vale this year will have to wait....oh yes she has to order those knew skis and boots. Can't go snow mobiling this year though....they release too much carbon. Speaking of Carbon emissions, Jane knows she read something in last month's Cosmo about buying carbon offsets for those long airline trips to Rio. Where is that magazine?.......

Now in parts i have simplified Jane, but being very general and using an extreme case without having to pick apart her life to the ultimate smallest detail, Jane isn't not really saving the planet just because she purchased a hybrid. In fact each aspect that i have spoken about has pretty serious negative effects on the planets. According to Footprintnetwork.org, "Ecological Footprint" is a resource management tool that measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology. This means that each of us needs to examine our entire lifestyle to really get an idea of our footprint. Carbon Footprint is just one aspect of the overall picture. Everything in the story above from Gap Jeans, to heated swimming pools, to Tomatoes on a burger has huge environmental impacts. Picking you life apart is important i guess if we are to truly make a difference and making changes is also important. Apart from making changes to lower your "Ecological Footprint", Carbon Offsets and "emissions trading" are alternative ways to make a difference. Some organizations and people simply can not totally become carbon neutral and must do other things to offset their carbon footprints. Another thing to think about apart from carbon emissions and the overall "Ecological Footprint" is the moral footprint. Gap recently mad a big mistake when one of their factories was found out to be using child labour. So apart from the huge Ecological footprint that growing cotton has leaves, and the huge footprint stone washing cotton jeans has, there was also this moral footprint of exploitation. The footprint we all leave is something that we all need to think about and i say WE because i know that i am in need of a good bit of self examination. My company has made many changes in 2006 to try to be more eco friendly, but we have way way more to change. I want to pledge that we are committed to this issue and over the next few years we want to leave a much smaller Ecological Impact. Even with the info that i have read i find the whole topic very complicated and complex. Carbon Offsets and Emission trading are things that i want to look at but i think that there is more that we can do as individuals and as a company. One of the things we want to do is to take more Antiguan and Barbudan children out on the boats to show them the natural environment. Its such a terrible shame that many people grow up here and become adults without ever seeing mangrove or coral reef habitats. We aim to change that in 2008. Anyway, our company's "ecological footprint" is under scrutiny by me and if you have any ideas or suggestions i would love to hear them. As i said a good site is http://www.ecologicalfootprint.org/ , another is this one . This fantastic article in the New York Times is a good one to end the day with too. Read up because this issue is extremely important for our future.

2 comments:

ed cumming said...

Have you read 'The Sceptical Environmentalist' by Bjorn Lomborg? Really interesting stuff. Hope all's good.

AdventureAntigua.com said...

i never read the book, but after accepting the nobel peace prize, al gore was asked about the same author. it seems as though many people out there want to challenge the status quo at the moment.