The carbon footprint sham

08. April 2021

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. A deca­de and a half later, “car­bon foot­print” is ever­y­whe­re. The U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy has a car­bon cal­cu­la­tor. The New York Times has a gui­de on “How to Redu­ce Your Car­bon Foot­print.” Mas­ha­ble publis­hed a sto­ry in 2019 enti­t­led “How to shrink your car­bon foot­print when you tra­vel.” Out­door­sy brands love the term.

This is one of the most suc­cess­ful, decep­ti­ve PR cam­pai­gns may­be ever,” said Ben­ja­min Fran­ta, who rese­ar­ches law and histo­ry of sci­ence as a J.D.-Ph.D. stu­dent at Stan­ford Law School.

It’s time to go on a low-carbon diet,” BP wro­te in bold let­ters on its web­site in 2006, with its “car­bon foot­print cal­cu­la­tor” just a click away. (In 2004 alo­ne, 278,000 peop­le cal­cu­la­ted their foot­prints.) The site was part of BP’s ad cam­pai­gn, “Bey­ond Petroleum.”

Fast for­ward, and BP is still pro­du­cing boun­ties of oil and gas every day (4 mil­li­on bar­rels a day in 2005 ver­sus 3.8 mil­li­on bar­rels today). In 2019, BP purcha­sed its “big­gest acqui­si­ti­on in 20 years,” new oil and gas reser­ves in West Texas that gave the oil giant “a strong posi­ti­on in one of the world’s hot­test oil patches,” accord­ing to the com­pa­ny. Today, BP touts its foray into lower-carbon fuels, but the­se are limi­ted in scope. In 2018, BP inves­ted 2.3 per­cent of its bud­get on rene­wa­ble ener­gies. Its bread and but­ter is still black oil and gas. What low-carbon diet?

It’s evi­dent that BP didn’t expect to slash its car­bon foot­print. But the com­pa­ny cer­tain­ly wan­ted the public — who com­mu­t­ed to work in gas-powered cars and stored their gro­ce­ries in ref­ri­gera­tors lar­ge­ly powe­red by coal and gas gene­ra­ted electri­ci­ty — to attempt, futile­ly, to signi­fi­cant­ly shrink their car­bon foot­print. In 14-year-old web pages no lon­ger acces­si­ble online but docu­men­ted by Julie Doyle, a pro­fes­sor of media and com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Brighton, BP publis­hed ads asking “What on earth is a car­bon foot­print?”, “Redu­cing our foot­print. Here’s whe­re we stand,” and “What size is your car­bon footprint?”

Doyle con­clu­des BP sought to exp­lain what a car­bon foot­print is “in a way which assigns respon­si­bi­li­ty for cli­ma­te impact to the indi­vi­du­al, while BP regis­ters its own con­cerns by appearing alrea­dy to be doing some­thing about it.”

Yet in a socie­ty lar­ge­ly powe­red by fos­sil fuels, even someo­ne without a car, home, or job will still car­ry a sizab­le car­bon foot­print. A few years after BP began pro­mo­ting the “car­bon foot­print,” MIT rese­ar­chers cal­cu­la­ted the car­bon emis­si­ons for “a homeless per­son who ate in soup kit­chens and slept in homeless shel­ters” in the U.S. That desti­tu­te indi­vi­du­al will still indi­rect­ly emit some 8.5 tons of car­bon dioxi­de each year.

src: click









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