Over the last couple of years the term ‘carbon footprint’ has become commonplace in our culture. A growing number of people now have at the very least a general understanding of what a carbon footprint is, and for the most part this is a good thing. This has begun to translate into a greater awareness of the life cycle of the products we consume, which is an important step towards becoming a more energy-efficient nation.
But with increased understanding of a concept like carbon footprints comes the likelihood that it will be abused and mis-used. With greater frequency we are seeing reports that pervert the concept, such as the pointless ‘carbon footprint smackdown’ that compares the footprint of one cheeseburger being equivalent to that of 15,000 Google searches.
The climate change finger-pointing hit a new level of insanity when a paper was published recently that links overweight people to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Surprisingly this report did not appear in a sensationalist tabloid or newspaper, but was an article in the respected International Journal of Epidemiology. The logic of the study is relatively simple: compared to the average population, obese people eat more and use their cars more for everyday chores. Since both driving and the production of food create greenhouse gas emissions, overweight people contribute more to global warming than the average population.
It is shocking that this article was able to successfully pass the journal’s peer-review process, as there are a large number of flaws with its simplistic theory. Peter Gorrie of the Toronto Star has done an excellent job of reviewing several reasons why this report can’t be taken seriously.
Of greater concern than the lack of scientific rigor in the study is the precedent that this report sets in labeling a subset of the population as the cause of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The data and logic can be spun in a countless number of ways such that just about any subset of the population can be made to blame for climate change. As opposed to investing time and energy into questionable and discriminatory studies like the one described here, future efforts should be allocated towards developing solutions to the climate change problem.
Image: Victius at flickr under a CC License
Stephen Boles is co-founder of Kuzuka, a marketplace website that brings a new level of convenience and confidence to carbon offset customers and provide consulting services to organizations that want to assess and reduce their carbon footprint.