The misuse of carbon footprint

Billionaires and corporations are mostly at fault

The “carbon footprint” is an often repeated measurement of people’s usage of carbon and how it impacts the environment. This measurement is taken as the percentage of carbon used by a person, usually within a year, and how carbon is expended, whether through driving a car, living in a house, building things, or manufacturing goods.

The idea of the carbon footprint is good in the sense that measuring people’s usage helps keep the amount from spiraling out of control, but far too often it is used in the wrong way: shaming those who do not have the luxury of forgoing their vehicles or essentials rather than focusing it on corporations and billionaires who take private flights, own multiple yachts and drain resources while creating pollution for everybody.

A 2007 study from MIT found the average American used roughly 16 tons of carbon in a year. This number is almost four times the global average of a person, and as such, this is a point of contention for ecologists and scientists, of which many accredited ones are saying that urban and developed American lifestyles, along with other “first-world” countries, are not sustainable and will soon experience a regression in the quality of life, rather than a continuous increase that has been the norm for the last 200 years.

According to Ecowatch, billionaires’ carbon footprints are about a thousand times greater than the average American. For example, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich used roughly 33,000 tons of carbon, the majority of which came from his superyacht,

Of course, wealthier people who own businesses will expend more carbon than the average person. This is the give and take of using carbon in the idealistic concept that those with money invest in communities and create business and manufacturing that average people will use. However, the problem with using carbon footprint as a measurement in terms of its social impact is that nearly all parts of this campaign target individuals’ usage rather than billionaires as described above.

When I was a kid, I was told that climate change was because of everyone’s decisions, and was drilled into my head that I need to reuse, recycle, and not waste energy or things to hold onto them for the future. While this is a good message for people, it is difficult for the average person not to use their “allotted” amount of Carbon. Relative to a billionaire’s consumption, a working-class person is not even making a dent in the environment, whereas billionaires and companies use completely needless expenditures like yachts and private jets that worsen the problem of using too much carbon while ignoring better options like public transportation.

This also becomes a problem when corporations use their power to destroy ideas, bills, and other avenues of reducing carbon. For example, public transportation in the U.S. is barely viable anywhere except in a few major cities. Another example is General Motors and their streetcars being monopolized by the companies rather than being a public good, which helped contribute to dependency on car usage in America and created a lack of trust both in these corporations and in public transit as a whole.

With avenues like this being cut off from people, and with the majority of Americans who work being roughly two paychecks away from living on the street, carbon footprint and worrying about the average person’s consumption in the face of a greater usage by those in power seems to be a misuse of the measurement, and indeed only places blame on those trying to get by, and not those trying to hold onto power and maintain their status quo.