Lately, I saw an article about the carbon footprint versus carbon shadow by Emma Pattee (2021). Here, I describe these terms in more detail and introduce a new one: climate light, with concrete examples for putting that in practice.
Ecological & Carbon Footprint
Although Pattee argues that the notion of carbon footprint was first introduced by BP 20 years ago, there is the Global Footprint Network (2023) from Mathis Wachernagel who started with the ecological footprint. Indeed, Wackernagel and Reese did their PhD on the subject in the early 90s.
GFN usually calculates the company, country or global ecological footprint, but it can also do that with the personal one. Be it by driving a car, showering, or energy consuming light bulbs, it is all incorporated. Even living in a specific country, with its own national footprint, is incorporated. For instance, living in the Netherlands already adds to your footprint, and is therefore more ecological expensive compared to living in Thailand.
Furternore, GFN calculates our yearly earth overshoot day: how much we are using until all resources are exhausted for that year by a specific month. For instance, in 2022, the overshoot day was in July, which is obviously way too early.
However, the carbon footprint was indeed introduced by BP as a means to raise awareness about the personal responsibility regarding climate change. How ironical as a giant oil company itself.
Climate Shadow & Carbon Handprint
There is problem to the footprint though: imagine you work on sustainability projects and activities. All you do is trying to have a positive impact on the world, however, this is not accounted for in the carbon footprint. The only thing you will see then by a footprint calculation is how you can reduce your carbon impact, while it does not take into account what good you do.
Therefore, Pattee (2021) introduced the term carbon shadow. Meaning, taking into account the sustainability projects and activities you are undertaking. Shadow in this sense is your positive impact in the world. Another word for this positive impact is the carbon handprint (2023), which is the idea that no contribution is too small for everyone or by anyone.
Yet, I have a problem with the term shadow: what do you think about climate shadow? Not something positive right? The term is certainly not depicting what it means to, because it does not refer to the negative shadow of climate change: droughts, floods, storms, hunger, inequity, poverty, migration, and all those other shadows caused by our climate change enhancing systems. Nor does it refer to your psychological shadow of the ego. On the contrary, having a positive climate impact/shadow has to do with a healthy and positive ego rather than a negative one.
Therefore, I introduce the term climate light instead. What do I mean by this? Climate light is all your positive actions and projects in terms of climate change mitigation and adaptation. It means shining your light in the darkness and shadow of the human induced global climate change problem.
If you shine your climate light, be it by signing a petition, or setting up your own actions and projects in clean up, tree planting, or using renewable energy (solar/light), we will all benefit. You can do this by yourself, or in collaboration with others through volunteering, an organisation or through business. Focus thereby on regeneration of people, planet, prosperity and wellbeing for all. Economy is then used as a service to these aspects, rather than the focus like today (seva economy, about that in another blog).
If we put our climate lights on, we will enlighten others to do the same, and thereby our common climate efforts will become a beacon of light in the current darkness of mankind. We will become a source for good (eco), rather than destructive with our carbon footprints (ego). In that way, we can put the slogan systems change not climate change into pactice. So, from egosystem to ecosystem.
So, shine bright, even in the daylight. Then, we will truly create a better world, for humanity, nature and all future generations to come.