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Irony Alert: BP Lectures People on Carbon Footprint

BP has launched Know Your Carbon Footprint. The goal is to help ordinary people understand their own contribution to climate change and the changes they can make to lower their overall footprint.

Those wishing to participate are asked to input data in a handy calculator produced by BP. It asks you things like how often you drive your car, how much read meat you eat, how much of your food is locally sourced, and how many appliances you have in your home. It then spits out a number showing your carbon emissions for an average year.

BP then offers a number of pledges each user can take to lower their overall contribution to climate change. The pledges range from shopping at thrift stores, sourcing local foods, using public transport to work, or paying an environmental tariff. BP will also allow you to make donations directly to them so they can send your money to climate-change initiatives it finds appropriate.

Honestly, I’m not sure whether I find this promotion infuriating, amusing, or admirable (come on, someone at BP has plenty of chutzpah to even suggest this).

Frank Mitloehner is my preeminent authority on climate change.

If it isn’t obvious yet, here’s the irony. The EPA says that transportation, industry, and electricity are the sources for 79 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States. Agriculture is only 9 percent. Commercial and residential cause slightly more at 12 percent. So BP (read: British Petroleum), which has made billions of dollars selling oil and gas is going to lecture the rest of us on our carbon footprint.

And BP has the audacity to suggest you eat less red meat and source your food locally. Let’s put that into context. Even if all Americans entirely gave up eating animal proteins, that would only reduce our carbon emissions by 2.6 percent. Not even a drop in the bucket. And that doesn’t account for the other problems such an approach could create, such as nutritionally-deficient diets and spending money on pursuits with higher carbon footprints.

As for only sourcing local food, such a suggestion is completely ridiculous. I live in Northern Indiana. What, exactly, is this region producing in January that I can survive on? (And riding my bike to work is also not an option.) Not to mention that purchasing local foods doesn’t mean it’s more sustainable. Again, it sounds nice, but the practical application is missing.

Don’t get me wrong here. Being aware of our individual contributions to climate change is important. And we should all take advantage of opportunities to be more environmentally-friendly. But that means things like recycling, turning the lights off when we’re using them, and supporting genetically modified crops.

But if we want to tackle the big things, like climate change, then we will have to make big changes to the largest sources of carbon emissions. And that’s what BP should actually focus on. Frank Mitloehner is right: this is just a smokescreen for BP. It makes people think BP actually cares about fighting climate change. Meanwhile, BP gets to do exactly what it’s been doing for decades without making any real difference.

And it’s incredibly infuriating that BP chose agriculture as a punching bag to create their smoke. In reality, agriculture is a leader in sustainability. We’ve been producing more with less since we started. So everyone, including BP, needs to stop using farming as a scapegoat.

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