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Frozen bread vs climate change

17 September, 2021

Recent articles in The Guardian and The New York Times have caused something of a stir: blasting the carbon footprint as an invention of the fossil fuel industry to divert attention from the need for systemic change in government and business to small changes at a personal level. With a COP26 spokesperson recently suggesting that the British public can help tackle the climate crisis through “micro-steps” such as not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher or by putting bread in the freezer to help it last longer, this diversion tactic may indeed be working.

But that’s not to say that carbon footprints have no merit. Going through the process of calculating your carbon footprint is a helpful way of getting people to think about their climate impact, provide steps to help them manage it, and to understand the areas that are most material. And the impacts are not small for everyone: as a recent Oxfam report showed, the richest 1% are responsible for more than double the emissions of the poorest 50%, so for some, knowing where and how to target reductions can make a big difference.

It certainly shouldn’t detract from the scale of the biggest polluters. But business emissions and personal emissions are not completely separate. For example, a personal carbon footprint that includes financial assets shows the importance of the investment decisions we make for our pensions and savings. Meanwhile, going through this process is a useful route into a complex and fairly technical space in a way that makes sense at a personal level, and opens up a route for advocacy and engagement with what needs to change at a systems level, as this article argues.

So don’t write off your own carbon footprint: it is still a powerful tool for reducing your impact. But don’t lose sight of the big, systemic actions that will help us keep the earth intact.

By Patrick Bapty

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