Photo Credit: Dominique Bachelet
April 18, 2013

How much carbon do you cost?

I just came back from 2 weeks in France where everything is now labeled with a carbon index ("Indice Carbone"). I took the metro to go to a meeting and the transportation carbon dioxide costs were posted on the walls: 4.3g CO2. Comparatively, I took a bus to see the sights on my way back: over 100g CO2. The meeting organizers had little water bottles "Eau de Source et de Montagne" - Spring and mountain water - each bottle cost 55 g of CO2.

Suddenly everything I was doing, everything I was touching had a carbon significance and I could make choices based on my concern over anthropogenic emissions causing climate change. I could reduce my carbon footprint simply by becoming more aware of the carbon cost of how I was living my life.

Among my science colleagues, we have often reflected that asking people to change their lightbulbs will not change the future of the planet even if one lives in the USA. We need visionary leaders with guts who apply strong policies and give incentives to non traditional industries in order to achieve a greener future for all. We often speak about a change in culture that would require decades, generations of people becoming more and more aware of their impact on their environment as Nature strikes back with a suite of catastrophic events like stronger hurricanes, more frequent fires, hotter heat waves or worse floods. But changing a culture can also come by increasing awareness.

If everyone, particularly children, understand what the carbon cost of everything is, maybe even unconsciously they may start making the right choices. Keeping people unaware of the consequences of their actions is the best way to keep the status quo. There is a great fear of the carbon tax in the oil industry but that tax already exists in different formats in Europe. Yet the standard of living there is quite comparable if not superior to that in the US.

As inhabitants of the same planet we all share the basic necessities of life: air, water, solar energy. Populations around the world are becoming aware of what it would take to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, eat safe food, and use free resources like the sun.  It may be a pipe dream that we could all work together to make a better world for our children, but dreams can become reality, and educated people can (and should) make the needle move.

Advertising companies know that repeating the same ads ad infinitum will eventually enter the subconscious of the future buyers. Let's make sure our country starts to clearly label the carbon costs of everything on supermarket shelves and every transportation means. Let's advertise our real carbon costs on TV ads. Let's talk about it. We have work to do to make this world a good place to raise a family and have healthy communities!

About the author:
Dominique Bachelet, Ph.D.
Senior Climate Change Scientist, Team Lead- Global Change
Dominique is a Senior Climate Change Scientist at CBI. She works extensively with a variety of climate scenarios to explore climate change impacts.
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