greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. dropped sharply in 2020...

greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. dropped sharply in 2020, by around 10 percent. All of those hugely changed behaviors, and the total effect was only about ten percent. Globally, the drop was even smaller, about 5 percent. And that decline didn’t last. After rebounding in 2021, global emissions are back to their pre-pandemic trajectory.

What this showed us, powerfully, is that individual, voluntary actions aren’t the main driver of our collective greenhouse gas emissions. Most of our total energy usage, and therefore the bulk of our emissions, is collective industrial usage, food production, energy generation, and goods transportation. None of these are tractable to individual decisions about reducing our carbon footprint.

So where did the idea come from, and why is it so powerful? The genesis of the “carbon footprint” was an early 2000s advertising campaign for British Petroleum. Rather than making carbon emissions the responsibility of oil producers, or even regulators, this rhetorical move shifted responsibility to consumers-to individuals, in other words.

As an individual you can help the problem and you can help corporations change, but corporations are the main problem.