Your Carbon Footprint

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How Are You Doing Carbon-wise?

Climate change has put our very existence at stake. To avoid catastrophe, it’s essential that we re-prioritize for our survival and make real changes at every level.

Carbon Footprint - BP-McKibben-Solnit-Aug2021.jpg


More to the Story: 'The Carbon Footprint' Marketing Campaign

Via Mashable 'Social Good' Series

British Petroleum, or BP, first promoted and soon successfully popularized the term “carbon footprint" in the early aughts. The company unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life — going to work, buying food, and (gasp) traveling — is largely responsible for heating the globe. A decade and a half later, “carbon footprint” is everywhere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a carbon calculator. The New York Times has a guide on “How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Mashable published a story in 2019 entitled “How to shrink your carbon footprint when you travel.” Outdoorsy brands love the term.

“This is one of the most successful, deceptive PR campaigns maybe ever,” said Benjamin Franta, who researches law and history of science as a J.D.-Ph.D. student at Stanford Law School.

Of course, no one should be shamed for declaring an intention to “reduce their carbon footprint.” That’s because BP’s advertising campaign proved brilliant. The oil giant infused the term into our normal, everyday lexicon. (And the sentiment is not totally wrong — some personal efforts to strive for a cleaner world do matter.) But there’s now powerful, plain evidence that the term “carbon footprint” was always a sham, and should be considered in a new light — not the way a giant oil conglomerate, who just a decade ago leaked hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, wants to frame your climate impact...


Inside Fossil Fuel Corporate Communications

Whose Carbon Footprint?

Rhetoric and frame analysis of ExxonMobil's climate change communications

Via One Earth / May 2021

by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes

A dominant public narrative about climate change is that “we are all to blame.” Another is that society must inevitably rely on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. How did these become conventional wisdom? We show that one source of these arguments is fossil fuel industry propaganda. ExxonMobil advertisements worked to shift responsibility for global warming away from the fossil fuel industry and onto consumers. They also said that climate change was a “risk,” rather than a reality, that renewable energy is unreliable, and that the fossil fuel industry offered meaningful leadership on climate change. We show that much of this rhetoric is similar to that used by the tobacco industry. Our research suggests warning signs that the fossil fuel industry is using the subtle micro-politics of language to downplay its role in the climate crisis and to continue to undermine climate litigation, regulation, and activism.

... These patterns mimic the tobacco industry's documented strategy of shifting responsibility away from corporations—which knowingly sold a deadly product while denying its harms—and onto consumers. This historical parallel foreshadows the fossil fuel industry's use of demand-as-blame arguments to oppose litigation, regulation, and activism.

In this paper, we analyze how ExxonMobil has publicly constructed AGW frames by selectively emphasizing some terms and topics while avoiding others. Our analysis compares the terms and topics between ExxonMobil's different AGW communications, including peer-reviewed publications, internal documents, and paid, editorial-style advertisements—known as advertorials—published on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times (NYT). We also identify frames in the latter. These well-defined, longitudinal corpora are conducive to a rigorous case study of fossil fuel industry messaging on AGW.


Rhetorical frames

Frame package analysis leads us to identify three dominant frames in ExxonMobil's advertorials, which we name (1) Scientific Uncertainty, (2) Socioeconomic Threat, and (3) Fossil Fuel Savior (FFS) (for details, see S4, supplemental information). The Scientific Uncertainty frame presents AGW as unproven and advocates additional climate science research. The Socioeconomic Threat frame argues that binding climate policies (such as the Kyoto Protocol) are alarmist and threaten prosperity, urging voluntary measures instead. The FFS frame describes AGW as the inevitable (and implicitly acceptable) risk of meeting consumer energy demand with fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, and presents technological innovation as the long-term solution.


We observe that, to the extent that advertorials admit the need for AGW mitigation, they disproportionately introduce terms conveying individual and/or demand-side actions as the appropriate response. Even while promoting explicit doubt about the reality of AGW, advertorials focus on downstream energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions, rather than upstream supply of fossil fuels, as the appropriate target of mitigation efforts. “During the [climate science] fact-finding period,” a 1997 advertorial states, “governments should encourage and promote voluntary actions by industry and citizens that reduce emissions and use energy wisely. Governments can do much to raise public awareness of the importance of energy conservation.”128 Twelve years later, advertorials continued to equate the “global environmental challenge” with “curbing greenhouse gas emissions,” but not with constraining fossil fuel supply.151 As one 2000 advertorial put it: “Prudent measures such as conservation and investment in energy-efficient technology make sense, but embarking on regulatory [energy] policies that may prove wasteful or counterproductive does not.

Advertorials repeatedly highlighted ways the public could, as one in 1998 put it, “show a little voluntary ‘can do.’”152 A 2008 advertorial suggested that the “cars and trucks we drive aren't just vehicles, they're opportunities to solve the world's energy and environmental challenges.”123 A 2007 advertorial offered readers “simple steps to consider”: “Be smart about electricity use”; “Heat and cool your home efficiently”; “Improve your gas mileage”; “Check your home's greenhouse gas emissions” using an online calculator.153 Mobil and ExxonMobil Corp presented themselves as facilitating, and participating in, such demand-side AGW mitigation. A 1997 advertorial laid the groundwork: “We're supporting research and technology efforts, curtailing our own greenhouse gas emissions and helping customers scale back their emissions of carbon dioxide.”124 In 1999, Mobil announced that “we're pleased to extend our support of … American Forests … whose ‘Global Releaf 2000’ program is mobilizing people around the world to plant and care for trees.”131 This narrative was echoed by advertorials a decade later: “By enabling cars and trucks to travel farther on a gallon of fuel, drivers…emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile,” said a 2008 advertorial.127 “We also are developing new vehicle technologies that can help consumers use energy more efficiently,” said two more the following year.


To this day, ExxonMobil Corp's (also Chevron's and ConocoPhillips') refrain on AGW, and the primary basis on which the company is now widely perceived to accept basic climate science, is that it is a “risk.”26,194,195 Across all of ExxonMobil Corp's flagship reports concerning AGW, by far the highest scoring collocate of “climate change” and “global warming” is “risk(s)” (S6.1, supplemental information). Compared with internal and peer-reviewed documents, terms in flagship reports invoking “risks of climate change” are highly divergent (S6.1). As with advertorials, none say that climate change is real and human caused.


The very notion of a personal “carbon footprint,” for example, was first popularized in 2004–2006 by oil firm BP as part of its $100+ million per year “beyond petroleum” US media campaign.229, 230, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235 Discourse analysis of this campaign led Doyle236 to conclude that “BP places responsibility for combatting climate change upon the individual consumer.” Smerecnik and Renegar57 have shown that subsequent BP branding activities similarly “plac[e] participatory emphasis on consumer conservation behavior as opposed to corporate responsibility.” This industry framing continues to dominate today.


Read more by Naomi Oreskes at "Merchants of Doubt" (2017)


Katharine Hayhoe shares her point of view on why to go "carbon neutral"

"I’m a climate scientist. I don’t “believe” in climate change: I crunch the data, look at the numbers, and draw the most sensible and reasonable conclusions. So whoever these believers are, they aren’t me.

"I also talk to people about climate change all the time: and I’ve never once told anyone to reduce their carbon footprint to zero. So whoever’s going around saying that, it’s not me or anyone I’ve ever heard.

"Why don’t I recommend this? BECAUSE MOST OF US CAN’T. We live in a world where the options to remove all carbon emissions from our lives are largely too expensive or unavailable. And even if everyone in the US eliminated their personal carbon footprint, what about emissions from industry and manufacturing?

"That’s why we need system-wide change at all levels. Yes, reducing our personal carbon footprint helps. But the single most important thing I tell people to do is, talk about it! Share with others why it’s so important. Vote on this issue. Ask elected officials what their solutions are, no matter what part of the political spectrum they’re from.

"A thermometer isn’t liberal or conservative. It doesn’t give us a different answer depending on how we vote. But the solutions are: and that’s why we need all voices at the table."


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