For all I wrote last week about not living life by numbers, there is a number which I do try and keep in mind as I make my day-to-day choices: the CO2 equivalent emissions.
In fact, it’s very hard to pin this down to a precise number for many things, because of the complexity of them, so usually I’m trying be aware of which things are higher and which lower, which raise my carbon footprint and which reduce it. Of course, carbon footprint is not related to quality: it may well be that my quality of life would be higher if I did things which produced more carbon dioxide, and the global trend at the moment – which is for the poorest in society to produce the least CO2 – might lead us to think that, to a certain level at least, we should all be entitled to a carbon footprint.
There are three problems with this. One is that the carbon footprint of something represents a hidden cost, to the environment and to other people. (In particular, some of those who will be soonest and worst affected by climate change caused by CO2 and similar emissions will be among the poorest.) Another is that carbon emissions, like the use of many other resources, are hugely unequal in distribution. Individuals in countries like the UK take up much more than their fair share of the carbon footprint of the whole population of the world. The third is that my ‘fair share’, the amount to which in an ideal world I would like to reduce my carbon footprint, is actually not mine, but emitted on my behalf by the government.
In 2012 I became a vegan, not because I thought it would improve my quality of life (although the quality of my life and my food hasn’t suffered at all, as it happens), but because I was ready – called – to do something to lower my carbon footprint. I’ve written about this in the past, but the point here is that worrying about a number, a difficult-to-calculate removed-from-my-observation but nevertheless relevant number, was in fact a big part of my motivation.
And it remains so. As I contemplate my choices for the future – places to work, jobs to work in, places to live, ways to live, participation in society – I am intending to try and keep that number in mind and let it affect my choices. I think that’s the right way to go about this because the ultimate aim of both exercises, letting go of some numbers and trying to remain mindful of others, is about awareness: being aware of myself in the world and the way things are. If I dropped the idea of the carbon footprint, as I can drop some other numbers, I would lose track of it altogether. I can get feedback on, for example, the time in other ways – my body, the sky, other people. The effects of CO2 are so removed from me that without a number, I could ignore it altogether, and that has been one of the chief causes of the problem.