Guest Column
Reducing your personal carbon footprint isn’t going to solve the relentless warming of the planet | Column
Fossil-fuel companies like to foster the idea that consumers’ behavior can significantly reduce emissions, but the real solution is political action.
Big Oil corporations want the responsibility for global warming to be on the consumer, not them.
Big Oil corporations want the responsibility for global warming to be on the consumer, not them.
Published Sep. 23

Personally reducing your fossil-fuel consumption or emissions won’t really help reduce global warming. Let’s take one suggestion: turning up the A/C thermostat. Of course, economizing is a good thing. Will it help global warming? Even if everyone does it, and I mean everyone, and we all buy Energy Star efficient appliances and carpool and all the rest of those sorts of actions, we might, at best, put a negligible dent in worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions.

Jeff Dorian
Jeff Dorian [ Provided ]

Is there evidence that might happen? Those who follow this mantra believing it’s the path to a livable future are being misguided. These are feel-good behaviors that lead one to believe their efforts are enough. A fallacy.

The New York Times on Aug. 31 printed a piece titled, “Worrying About Your Carbon Footprint is Exactly What Big Oil Wants You To Do.” Fossil-fuel companies pay lip service to reducing their own carbon footprints, but then lobby against government policies to reduce the sale of their products on a large scale. They want the responsibility for global warming to be on the consumer, not them.

Encouraging individual responsibility for global warming and defining a solution as individual choices based on principles of “reduce, reuse and recycle” may be well-intentioned, but the danger with this is in reducing the perceived scale of the needed solutions, focusing instead on individuals’ actions. Imagine you bring a bucket of sand every day to the beach. Would it mitigate beach erosion? What if everyone did it? What if it was required for admission? What if two buckets were required? Still not enough?

Of course not. It requires large-scale replenishment. The even larger solution for increasingly widespread beach erosion is likely prevention of sea-level rise, a global threat. The sand metaphor shows the need to leap from individual action to public policy.

Legislation now in Congress, as well as most of the world’s nations, are scaling up solutions, but it’s still far from enough. Our leaders need to hear support for solutions from voters.

We all likely want to make a difference on the climate crisis. You may not have become involved in politics because of the common cynicism, especially toward federal politics. Consider finding others with the same goals through organizations.

You can make a profound difference.

“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience.” — Alex Steffen, an expert on sustainability.

There are many opportunities for any of us to amplify our voice and empower our climate crisis actions. There are climate groups for both parties, young and old, activists and diplomats. Consider joining a Republican or Democratic climate change advocacy group.

Jeff Dorian, a community volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, lives in Orlando.“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.