Did you know that your very existence can cause a large increase in the dreaded CO2? If you turn on an electric light, drive a car, eat a potato chip or buy any food other than what's grown locally, you help make our planet unlivable? You're increasing your own carbon footprint, the amount of CO2 you add to the planet. The word "carbon" is not frequently used in conversation, but it's difficult to escape the term "carbon footprint."
Verlyn Klinkenborg, writing in The New York Times, asks if any phrase has ever spread so rapidly, even while he worries that the words are taking the place of action. Curtis Brainard, in Columbia University's Observatory (a critique of the press coverage of science and the environment), tells us his search turned up the phrase in 2,000 U.S. newspapers since June 2007. In Michael Specter's article "Big Foot" in The New Yorker, we learn that there are now "carbon-neutral investment banks, carbon-neutral real-estate brokerages, carbon-neutral taxi fleets, and carbon-neutral dental practices," and the English chain of supermarkets Tesco is working to put a carbon score on every product it sells.
Indeed, he says, "Possessing an excessive carbon footprint is rapidly becoming the modern equivalent of wearing a scarlet letter." The discussion has gone so far as to suggest that those of us who are overweight are contributing to the problem because we obviously don't walk enough and we eat too much meat.
The gist of many of the carbon footprint articles is that we often use a catchphrase to make us feel good and fool ourselves into thinking we're doing something about a problem. With this term, the writers worry, we're doing just that and should begin thinking seriously about what carbon footprint really means. For the articles I have referred to, go to www.cjr.org/the_observatory
; the New Yorker site (http://www.newyorker.com
; search for Michael Specter); and the Times site (www.nytimes.com; search http://www.nytimes.com
for Verlyn Klinkenborg).
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