Climate Footprint or Climate Shadow – Which is More Important?

The first mention of a climate footprint came about in the early 1990s. Few people understood what it actually meant, even fewer actually did something about it.

Thirty years later, just about everyone has heard of it, even tried to use a climate footprint calculator, or two. But, much to their dismay, they still need “… more than 4 Earths if everybody lives like you”.

We all know by now that numbers can be coerced into attention, due to whatever outcome is on demand. So, what’s the deal with determining your own carbon footprint using a calculator?

For starters, carbon footprint calculators are too general.

Or rather, they aren’t specific enough.

Choosing the first calculator above, the first question is (at least when we tested it out): How often do you eat animal-based products? You can then choose your answer: never to very often.

Locally raised meat and dairy, naturally grass-fed.

Herein lies the beginning of many problems. Many climate change advocates voice their opinions very loudly in favor of vegetarianism or going vegan. That is, eliminating meat.

There is no way to choose that you consume organic meat, or locally grown animal protein, or whether you raise your own animals. Point blank, your consumption of meat means that you need more Earths to support your healthy lifestyle. What meat-eaters know, is that meat provides many vitamins and minerals that plants don’t have, not to mention the fact that most people eating grains are dining from large factory farms and corporations that use all sorts of chemicals (potentially even GMO crops).

Our home pantry in 2021.

Those who have been following us for some time, also know that we live without a fridge or freezer, choosing non-electric ways to store our food for months at a time. Canning is one way to get around this and our pantry is full by autumn.

After food, comes housing…

“Is your home well insulated?” With what? I would like to add. Something toxic that is rolled out in sheets or with natural materials? Based on calculator results, passive heating/cooling design with advanced temperature control wins out over natural design. All of those systems are very tech-heavy with a high initial cost.

What sort of light bulbs do you use? Compared to asking how many kWh a month of electricity you consume. We use about 10 kWh a month, which is fairly little, all things considered. Our 80+ year old wooden home only has 2 outlets. They are never fully used. We also have just 3 light bulbs, mostly they are not in use. Renewable energy is not yet available in any power provider’s packages on its own, where we are, though would it be available, we’d happily pay for it.

When guests come to visit, they can spot right away our simple lifestyle. Yet, calculators rarely pick up on this.

Travel without a car.

To lower our carbon emissions even further, we’ve chosen (4 years ago) to eliminate air travel from our lives. For us this means buses, trains and carpooling when necessary. We also walk a lot, more than 20 km a week, as bikes aren’t so friendly on mountainous terrain.

Sustainable travel doesn’t mean you should always sit at home as you virtually move about the world on your screen. Which brings us to the internet. How much of your life is stored in the cloud? And how much energy does it take to preserve it there? Is that counted as part of your carbon footprint?

As you maybe begin to see, it’s quite hard to pinpoint what your carbon emissions actually are. There is no accurate answer, and somehow, it materializes into a blame game. One based on fear and anxiety that you still aren’t doing enough. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, who’s behind it all?

Naturally, we should all strive to live as simply as we possibly can, without compromising our well-being and quality of life, which bestows similar ethical attitudes toward the Earth from the part of large influential companies and corporations too.

Yet, we should never make rash actions based on fear of climate change. We need to love the Earth in order to understand what is truly important to us, then we can act with heart.

Where are we heading with all of these measurements?

Actions often speak louder than words, but they certainly won’t matter much when calculating your carbon footprint.

Here’s the thing, since BP slipped the term “carbon footprint” ever so craftily into your minds, it shifted the numerous small actions into your hands at the same time. Take shorter showers, turn off the water while you brush your teeth, do the laundry in cold water, turn off the lights. All of which should be done, not by just the common folk, but by industrious giants as well.

Calculating our carbon footprint should not be the single most important thing to measure how well we are doing in terms of eating up CO2. See, it shifts the responsibility from them to us, when we are all responsible.

Autumn apple and walnut harvest. Where there is open land and water, there will always be food.

What matters more than shifty numbers, is your carbon shadow.

The ecological shadow of sustainability that follows you wherever you go. It is both your conscience and your consciousness. It is why you do what you do.

Because your carbon shadow goes along to work with you, it travels with you, it goes out with you (whatever entertainment means to you). It’s immeasurable, yet it begins to define us as human species. For example, you can be living an “eco-friendly” lifestyle while working online for a large corporation that is known for polluting.

Do you strive to live a simple life?

One that involves less waste and more compost, fewer things and more time? Do you go out in nature on a daily basis, or every moment you get a chance? Are you able to grasp the concept of a life lived closer to nature – and actually carry it out too?

Here’s the key to living a sustainable life: don’t focus on changing your light bulbs or switching your energy provider when your heart is not in the right place.

Love the Earth first, then sustainable actions will naturally follow.

You’ll find yourself eliminating all plastic fibers from your wardrobe and replacing them with organic cotton, hemp, linen and naturally tanned leather.

Regain access to ancient wisdom and realize that consuming meat is not all bad – it is in the commercialized way that it’s carried out. In time you’ll be eating locally raised animals, vegetables and fruits. You can start foraging and eating seasonally.

It’s your choice to get in tune with what nature has to offer. She is always there for us. But, are we always there for her?

Setting both carbon footprints and carbon shadows aside, you’ll discover that if you really love living on Earth, you can’t help but make this planet a better place for all creatures, big and small, humans too.

Stop tracking your carbon footprint and start practicing gratitude for being on Earth today. It makes all the difference in the world!

Cheryl Magyar

Cheryl is a freelance writer and content creator on all things related to simple living, ecological minimalism, organic gardening and foraging. She is the co-creator of the Earth Gratitude Journal, a monthly downloadable journal that focuses on having greater appreciation for living on this incredible planet.

All posts