I got a little flak from my last column on carbon footprint, particularly from my friend CD. He is relentless in his conviction that global warming is a claim and nothing else. He peppers me with very compelling arguments that refute claims that climate change will bring another 40 days and nights of rain, hence another launching of the ark! CD doesn’t get it and I will try to explain that my cry for change is less about global warming and more about reduction of carbon footprint which means less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Whether this reduces global warming or not is still with the jury. In the meantime, let me try to use a column by Dave Johnson, editor of Industry Safety and Hygiene News (ISHN), to illustrate a less technical explanation of carbon footprint. Listen up, CD.
CD’s phone rings and the caller introduces himself as a pollster for the Society for a Sustainable Future. He asks CD if he will participate in a short poll. CD agrees, asking himself, “How can he say no to a sustainable future?”
The caller asks if CD believes in changes in individual behaviors and attitudes will make an impact on a sustainable future. CD responds, “You bet, I love the environment, just love it.”
Caller: Do you recycle?
CD: Of course. What could be easier? Trash in the red bucket, plastic, glass and newspapers in the green. They teach this at pre-school, you know.
Caller: What’s your thermostat set at right now?
CD: It’s 80 degrees. That’s right, 80.
Caller: Why so high?
CD: It’s January, you know. You’re calling north of the Mason-Dixon line. But in the summer it’s air conditioning 24/7, baby. Okay, Okay, don’t worry, I’ll turn the thermostat down tonight.
Caller: What electric appliances do you run most often?
CD: Well, you have to understand, I’m one of those people, soon as I get home, the television goes on. Has to. I can’t stand a quiet house. Freaks me out. So the television is on basically whenever I’m home. At least I don’t sleep with it on. I knew a guy, couldn’t go to sleep at night without the TV on. Strange, huh?
Then I might go in the kitchen and turn on NPR. No, I’m not really listening or watching. The news is too depressing. Have you watched it lately? Then, let’s see . . . I might pop something into the microwave.
Caller: How often do you use the microwave?
CD: Well, you know the world we live in. I’m microwaving every night. There’s no time.
Caller: How far do you commute to work?
CD: Hah! Got ya there. I work at home. How many points do I get for that?
Caller: Do you walk to the grocery store?
CD: Can I walk to where I shop for food? What a concept, walk to shop. Just kidding. I could, but I don’t. Why? I’d have to carry the stuff home and those water bottles are heavy.
Caller: How many water bottles do you consume in a day?
CD: I got to admit, I’m a little obsessive about my water bottles. It’s like I’m addicted. What? How many are in my fridge right now? We’re getting a little personal aren’t we? Just kidding. Wait . . . uhhh, I guess there are about 20 or 30 in there. Hey, calm down, they’re eight ounce Deer Parks. Of course, then I’ve got my giant tubular bottles of Smartwater. Can’t beat Smartwater. Oh, and then we have the easy pour three-quart jug of Deer park for making coffee.
What’s that you say? I’ve got enough plastic to cover an infield during a rain delay? I dunno, I never thought of it that way. C’mon, you gotta give me some points for recycling it all.
Caller: Regarding diet, how much beef do you eat?
CD: What’s that got to do with anything? What’s that you say? Raising livestock for human consumption creates 51 percent of GHG emissions, and pollutes rivers and lakes? Well, I’m good for a couple of burgers a week. That’s about it. I’m not a big beef guy. I get points for that, right?
What? What do I think about the cruelty of factory farming? To who? I know, I know, the farmers got it rough. The cattle? C’mon, they don’t even know where they are. They have pea brains. Just kidding. Alright. Alright. Jeez, I didn’t know this was a sore spot with you. This is where sustainability gets a little touchy feely for me. But don’t deduct any points, OK?
Caller: What are your driving habits?
CD: My driving habits? OK, well, I don’t have any points right now so I’m a good driver. What’s that? How often do I drive somewhere when I could walk instead? Never. Listen, I live in the suburbs. We have sidewalks that lead to nowhere. Seriously, they just suddenly end, like they ran out of cement. Makes no sense. You know the suburbs, nothing is close to anything. The school’s too far to walk. Church, library, too far. Now did you ever once hear of anyone walking to a McDonald’s? Or Walmart? Imagine someone actually walking to Walmart. You could pull a hammy just crossing the parking lot.
Caller: How many cars do you own?
CD: How many cars? Let’s see. Five. What can I say, I like cars. And that’s not including the kids’ cars. When they’re home the front yard looks like a moonshine runners’ convention what with all the cars all over.
Would I consider purchasing a small, more fuel-efficient car, or a hybrid? The hybrid’s a little pricey for me, nice idea and all. You know, the economy isn’t exactly cooking along. We could still be in a recession. Who knows. And ah, small cars, they make me claustrophobic. I don’t need those huge tail fins, we’ve outgrown them at least. And all the chrome. Nice, but you gotta move on. . . . Still, you know, this is America, not China. We’re a car nation.
The survey finally concludes. CD asks, “How did I do?” The pollster tells him he has a footprint the size of a crater. CD asks, “What exactly is a footprint?”
I’ll finish this last column on carbon footprint with my own comments. I think we, as a global society, emit far too much CO2. It’s coal fired boilers, it’s cars, it’s habits and behaviors as illustrated in the parody above. We are like lemmings running into the sea. More likely we may be like the Easter Islanders who chopped down their forests to make dugout canoes to catch fish in order to have protein to sustain their lives. The result: extinction. What we don’t understand, what CD isn’t ready to admit, is the extinction point for the globe is indeed possible.
The combination of coal CO2 releases, deforestation, decline in water tables, overuse of farmland, combined with overuse of inorganic fertilizers at an ever-increasing rate, all of these contribute to bringing us to the tipping point.
Unfortunately, it appears that large organizations cannot politically resolve global environmental issues, hence the deadlock in arriving at actions of change in Durban and Copenhagen.
The key, of course, is change, changing habits. The key in our industry is to demonstrate leadership by making elimination of byproduct our number one priority. There are solutions and, regardless of cost, we must be prepared to change.
Another Letter from the Earth.
Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is