Got a list of resolutions for the new year? Here’s one to add to your list. Resolve that:
In 2011, your carbon footprint will be your least consequential footprint.
By now, you’ve made your list of resolutions for the coming 2011. Well done! May your list and accompanying thought process make your year productive and fulfilling both professionally and personally.
That said, please consider adding this additional dimension to your list.
First, you can be intentional about reducing your carbon footprint. You can better insulate your (smaller) home, green-up your furnace and energy consuming appliances, drive a hybrid car, use mass transit, bike, walk, … You know the litany! And chances are you’re doing well at this, but you can always do better.
But think about it! If all you’re doing is minimizing your personal consumption of water, food, energy, and other resources, you’re really limiting your contribution to solving the real world’s problems, aren’t you? You’ve capped your input. You can do no better than reduce your individual consumption to zero – and that only when you die. [But don’t die yet! We all need you!]
Fortunately, that’s not what you’re doing. You’re not just sitting on your hands. There are other, far better, ways you can and are making good on this resolution in 2011, and beyond. That’s because your footprint, that is, the sum total of your impact on the world, transcends your material resource consumption.
Transcends. It’s not just slightly more than what you use up; it exceeds that many times.
Start with your vocation. Check out the Latin roots of this word; this doesn’t just mean your job, it means your calling. You were called to do the work you do. Your role in this world is no accident. And chances are, if you’ve been reading this blog up to this point, you and your work contributes in some way to the resolution of major societal challenges all seven billion of us face as we make our way on the real world.
You might be putting out daily weather forecasts, or using weather and climate outlooks to optimize decisions in the agriculture-, energy-, transportation- or water sectors, or doing research in any of the Earth sciences, or ecological sciences, or related social sciences. Maybe you’re working for a state legislature or on Capitol Hill, or reporting on these issues. Perhaps you’re in mass transit or sewage disposal, or stringing fiber cable, at the county or city level. In these roles, and myriad more, you are multiplying your impact in a big way, aren’t you! You are individually making it possible for dozens, or hundreds or thousands or more to reduce their carbon footprint, their water resource use, to provide for public safety in the face of threats, and to protect the environment, species diversity, habitat, and all the rest. Please take a moment to consider your work more thoughtfully in this light. Few of us do enough of this.
Moreover, you can scale up your impact – the size of that footprint – even more radically. In fact, you’re probably already doing this. How? You do this to the extent that your actions are viral. Say you’re a teacher. You’re not only guiding those in your classroom or those who are your graduate assistants to making greater contributions toward a better world. You’re also triggering the process by which they’ll be doing the same within a very few months or years. But teaching isn’t confined to the school classroom. Say you’re responsible for sewage systems in a Midwest town. You’re not only handling the day-to-day aspects of that very practical problem, you’re mentoring others to carry on where your work leaves off, and in turn inspire others, and so on. Maybe you’re a journalist reporting on environmental issues. You’re not only building public awareness, you’re inspiring others to become environmental journalists. You’re building capacity in an exponential way. If you’re working in policy, if you’re social networking, if you’re a leader, your contributions are viral in this same sense.
Although your footprint includes your work, it’s not limited to your work. In the same manner, you can, and probably are, having that same kind of catalytic, capacity-building, infectious impact on your family, your neighbors, your church or synagogue, your community. And these acts are accumulative, synergistic. Your own measures add up quickly, but combine them with those around you, and you start making a big difference very quickly.
Some of you may be retired, but you’re still having this same kind of cumulative positive impact on the world. My wife, my brother, and my mother fall in this category. They’re modeling behavior for future generations. They’re encouraging other family members and friends. They’re babysitting the grandchildren, showing hospitality to the great-grand-children, helping and heartening others in their communities. Their carbon footprint is still their least consequential footprint.
So what this additional resolution asks of you is not too burdensome. It’s doable, and yet vital. The request is that you become more alert to the greater impact you have on others and the world every day. That you become more intentional about having that larger impact. That you place greater emphasis on those activities that are scalable, viral. That when you think of the world’s seven billion, you see them (us, me) not as a statistic – a faceless mass consuming resources – but as seven billion individuals each capable, given the right encouragement and opportunity, of making the real world of the present and future a much better place.
And finally, please bring that thought process close to home, to ground-level. See that close family member, that co-worker, the clerk behind the counter, the stranger crowded against you in the Metro, or cutting in front of you on the Beltway, in the same positive light. If all seven billion of us do this, 2011 could be a very good year.
You’re wearing big shoes! Go ahead! Take a step. And another! Leave some big footprints!