The Power of Personal Climate Leadership

In 2000 bp the giant oil & gas company launched a climate campaign that won a laudatory advertising award, a “Gold Effie.” The campaign impressed upon the American public that a different type of pollution, is also your problem, not the problem of oil & gas industry. BP hired the public relations professionals Ogilvy & Mather to promote the slant that climate change is not the fault of an oil giant, but that of individuals.

The company unveiled its “carbon footprint calculator” in 2004 so one could assess how their normal daily life — going to work, buying food, and (gasp) traveling — is largely responsible for heating the globe. A decade and a half later, “carbon footprint” is everywhere. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a carbon calculator. The The New York Times has a guide on “How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Mashable published a story in 2019 entitled “How to shrink your carbon footprint when you travel.” Outdoorsy brands love the term.

While BP certainly did not mean it, they made a great service for us as a society.

In an unexpected turn, BP has inadvertently contributed a valuable tool to our society. The calculator offers us the chance to gain deep insights into the intricate relationship between our actions and greenhouse gas emissions. This newfound awareness empowers us to proactively curtail our carbon footprint, seizing control of our collective destiny.

Let me clarify—I stand neither as a BP executive nor as a representative of any industry, particularly not oil and gas. The intentions behind BP’s actions are of little concern to me. Instead, my focus lies squarely on a singular question: How can I, as an individual, play my part in reducing carbon emissions? My motivation stems not from guilt, but from a genuine concern for the well-being of our children and the global community’s future.

The entire oil and gas sector must step up and steer us toward a more sustainable path. A transformative shift in their business model, one that embraces low-carbon energy solutions and substantial investments in renewables, is imperative. Equally vital is a comprehensive strategy to diminish fossil fuel exploration—a commitment that warrants transparency and a crystal-clear plan of action.

Taking matters at our own hands is not easy. We don’t fully understand or (until now) were able to measure our impact and change of it based on our actions, we feel too small to act, and let’s be honest, just being good citizens is not enough. We would like that our actions will be recognised, appreciated, and even better rewarded.

Intrinsic motivations are not enough. They are important, but will not make us move together in the same direction of sustainability (assuming we can even agree on what needs to change, which is a task by itself).

We need a new, extrinsic motivation agent to help us change our collective behaviour and take sustainability action, now.

History shows that the only thing that really works is money. The best way to get someone to do something that’s good for the planet is to provide a reason why it’s good for them right now. Money — it doesn’t sound good but this is the naked truth.

And this means that our economic measurements have to change. The metrics we use to measure success, as the traditional economic growth model is only fuelling and accelerating climate change, and the activities and behaviours that cause it.

The combined value of the carbon economy and climate change damages is estimated to reach over US$ 6 trillion annually. Insurers are worried that a financial crisis may come from climate risks, and other corporates know the price tag will be hefty. Extreme suggestions like the Green New Deal introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward J. Markey are not feasible as they require investment of at least US$ 52 trillion, in the US alone.

But these big numbers stun the senses. They make the problem seem even more remote, even more, separate from us as individuals. They make it even less likely that we’ll start to change our behaviour.

As I embark on my personal journey to minimise my carbon footprint, I’m heartened by the larger shifts taking place. It’s heart-warming to witness society’s growing acknowledgment of the importance of sustainable living. From conserving energy at home to advocating for cleaner modes of transportation, each action resonates as a ripple in the tide of change we collectively strive for.

As individuals, we possess the remarkable ability to instigate transformation, catalysing industries, governments, and society at large to take bold steps toward sustainability.

A new smart sustainability economy has to emerge: a new consumer economy geared to changing our behaviour. An economy that measures and rewards an agreed set of sustainability behaviours. If you get paid for walking, for recycling, for using renewable energy, for using public or shared mobility solutions and helping women and girls in developing markets to study, then it’s more likely that you’ll do those things.

And who’s going to pay for that, you may well ask?

I am, you are — all of us…

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