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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Carbon Footprints are a scam

Why did the fossil fuel industry invent the carbon footprint?


By ALEX MOTAWI — almotawi@ucdavis.edu


Everyone knows the concept of having a “carbon footprint.” The idea of reducing your carbon footprint has been around for a while (first coined in 2000) and is known almost universally due to its prevalence in the school curriculum for young kids. It caught on for a reason — many people want to be better and make a difference in keeping our environment healthy, and outputting less carbon is a way to do that. However, the movement did not sprout from the minds of altruists trying to be helpful — it was birthed by savvy marketers working for British Petroleum (BP). The third-largest oil and gas company in the world, which took in $300 billion of revenue in 2004 when their concept of the carbon footprint was reaching national popularity. 

The concept of the carbon footprint was popularized by one of the biggest carbon-emitting companies in the entire world. And it wasn’t created out of goodwill and a desire to do better on their behalf; it was a smokescreen designed to keep people from recognizing the carbon emitters that actually matter — big oil.

According to the BP-sponsored website “Know Your Carbon Footprint,” “The world needs smarter, more sustainable energy. When we work together, small actions can make a big difference. Use our calculator to find out how much carbon you use each year — and take the first step towards shrinking your footprint.” 

Let me tell you straight: the “we” they use is refering to us normal humans trying to live our lives, not oil companies actively destroying the environment and contributing to global warming.

The truth of the matter here is that our carbon footprint is minuscule compared to these large oil companies. Beyond that, it is impossible for someone in the U.S. to maneuver their carbon footprint to even just 8.5 metric tons, which is still over double the world average (4 metric tons, data from 2007.) This 2007 data places the average American at about 20 metric tons of emissions, but 8.5 is spent on your own behalf by the government — so it’s impossible for someone living in the U.S. to emit less.

Basically, you can only control part of your carbon footprint, probably around 20 metric tons per year. Now I’m not saying nothing you do to shrink your footprint matters. It all matters when we are in a fight to save our Earth, one we are currently losing. What I am saying is that the big oil companies talking about the carbon footprint of an individual like it’s the number one way to save the environment isn’t just disingenuous — it’s false.

BP’s operations in 2020 emitted 374 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (it was 490 pre-covid in 2018). Shell, the giant in an industry full of giants, emitted 1.337 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2020. Shell itself is responsible for 1.6% of the entire world’s carbon emissions. 

These are the companies that are “fighting for” a greener earth by trying to get the average person to save an amount that is a drop in the bucket compared to what they themselves emit into the atmosphere. The Shell company emits 66,850,000 U.S. citizens’ worth of carbon into the environment every year and isn’t legitimately even trying to shrink their contributions and instead pawning it off to us by pushing the idea of a “carbon footprint.”

While we should do everything we can to lower our emissions, the onus to actually make a difference falls on the big oil companies as well as our government. They know climate change is killing our world (and even knew and hid the knowledge of it from us for over 20 years) yet choose to ignore it for the sake of profit anyway. If we want to truly save our world from climate change, we need to look past the marketing facade that is our carbon footprint — and hold big oil companies accountable instead.


Written by: Alex Motawi — almotawi@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.



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