For people seeking to live more gently on the earth, carbon emissions provide a handy benchmark. Reducing one’s carbon footprint” gives us numbers to aim for. Carbon footprint is not everything, though.
Carbon emissions are just one of a whole constellation of factors jeopardizing the planetary biosphere that our life depends on. These other factors include overconsumption; inequity; broken water-cycles; eutrophication; biodiversity loss; soil degradation.
That said, carbon emissions are a decent metric if you only have one metric available. There’s significant overlap between carbon emissions and a lot of the other variables such as overconsumption; soil degradation; biodiversity loss.
By way of seeking to focus my efforts more directly on the root issue, one concept and movement I’ve stumbled on in the past couple of years is “de-growth.” (A group I’m finding very helpful is Degrowth – join the revolution. Also the Non-Consumer Advocate.)
The “forever growth” paradigm which defines society and economy in the USA and other wealthy industrial nations might just be the “umbrella problem” that covers all of the symptoms we are trying to address. Degrowth offers a way out of that death spiral. Note – degrowth is only for the rich consumerist nations; we recognize that in some parts of the world, large numbers of people still need some GROWTH in order to simply get their basic needs met such as safe cooking technology, safe drinking water, health care. Even here in the USA, there are many people who still need some of that basic growth in order to catch up to a humane standard of living.
This “Carbon Tunnel Vision” graphic (shared by Frenchie Powell; based on graphic by Jan Konietzka) is useful to keep in mind.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, besides footprint there’s also your handprint to consider: the positive impact you have on people and the planet. If you’re having trouble making further reductions in your footprint, don’t beat yourself up. You can probably find ways of increasing your handprint.
• Another concept besides degrowth that I find helpful is the idea of a “steady-state economy” (Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, CASSE, steadystate.org). “A steady state economy is an economy of stable or mildly fluctuating size. The term typically refers to a national economy, but it can also be applied to a local, regional, or global economy. An economy can reach a steady state after a period of growth or degrowth. To be sustainable, a steady state economy may not exceed ecological limits. A steady state economy entails stabilized population and per capita consumption. Birth rates equal death rates, and production rates equal depreciation rates. Minimizing waste allows for a steady state economy at higher levels of production and consumption.” (Visit the link to learn more.)