The Footprint Theory of Life
I made a resolution to lower my carbon footprint. Everyone's doing it. They say it's good for the Earth!
I tried my best at first. But the more I learned about carbon footprints, the harder it became.
Turns out that just about every single thing I do uses up carbon! Since almost every form of transportation -- trucks, cars, trains, planes, ships -- uses petroleum-based fuel, and since petroleum is mostly just carbon mixed up with hydrogen, then everything I use, eat, touch or want requires carbon combustion to reach me. Damn! Every manufactured product of any kind is made up of raw materials that were dug up or retrieved by fuel-burning machines, then transported in fuel-burning trucks or trains to huge plants to be processed or refined, then transported in fuel-burning trucks or trains to different factories where they're made into everyday objects, then they're again transported by ship or plane or train or truck to the store, where I go to buy them. That's a hell of a lot of carbon being used! Even if I ethically bicycle to the store to do my shopping, that's only, at best, a 1% carbon savings over the amount of carbon that was required to get whatever I'm buying to the store in the first place.
But then I looked down at my bike and realized that it too followed the same high-carbon manufacturing trajectory to reach me when I bought it! And the tires on the wheels, and the steel in the frame, and the . . . well, it all just became too carbon-y to even ponder. Even worse, I just found out that the gasping and panting I do when bicycling is just another way of expelling carbon into the atmosphere! Has anybody calculated whether 20 minutes of heavy exhalations from bicycle riding produces more or less carbon than the three minutes of car exhaust it would take to travel the same distance? So much research is required! It's simply overwhelming.
Why only carbon?
It began to dawn on me that my carbon usage was just the tip of the iceberg. I was literally devouring the Earth little by little as I used up all the other elements as well! Forget about my carbon footprint: What about my aluminum footprint? My oxygen footprint? My plutonium footprint? If I want to be serious about "living lightly on the land," I feel that a complete inventory of ALL my elemental footprints is in order. And through that process, perhaps we all can learn to lower our footprints of each and every natural element.
Let us begin the inventory.
The Earth's very core is solid iron; when we use it up, it's like stabbing Mother Earth in the heart. And when I read that "Iron ore may be more integral to the global economy than any other commodity, except perhaps oil," I begin to understand that my consumption of iron is contributing to the existence and ongoing success of the capitalist economy. Shame! And when you think about all the smelting and melting and schmelting that goes on to turn iron ore into steel, you can see that the very creation of iron-based products is itself a major contributor to carbon usage too. So if I want to get serious about lowering my carbon footprint, I've got to lower my iron footprint first.
But where to begin? I look around, and it's hard to see anything that is entirely iron-free. Every vehicle, every machine, every appliance, every gadget, even the frickin' forks! The building I'm sitting in right now is held together with iron nails, fer chrissakes. There's no escape from the ubiquitous iron footprint!
And so, I resolve that: If I ever build a house, I'm going to do it like the old-school Japanese craftsmen, and design the whole thing to fit together without a single nail. Forks henceforth shall be abandoned in favor of bamboo chopsticks. And -- though this part will be admittedly a little more difficult -- I vow to shun any object that was ever transported in or created by a machine containing iron. If we want to ever smash the iron hegemony, the time to start is now!
So, Mr. Obama, will you listen to your Science Czar for once? Why'd you bother appointing him anyway? All energy -- including nuclear energy -- is bad, and causes global warming! If this planet is to survive, we must decrease our uranium footprint. To that end, I will stop utilizing any electrical power, because my utility company (like many others) gets a substantial percentage of its energy from nuclear power plants -- and most of the rest from carbon sources.
Every time you inhale, you're using up oxygen. Think about it: What right do you have to all that oxygen? There's only a limited amount of it in the biosphere, and once we use it all up -- we're all going to suffocate. So every breath you take is a breath you're stealing from someone else in the future. Eventually, all the oxygen will be gone, and so it should be treated as our most precious resource. And yet everyone breathes in and out 24 hours day without giving it a second thought!
Furthermore, the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced by plants, and thus rightly belongs to those plants. Who was it that said that the workers should own the products of their labor? And yet here we come along, like the exploitative factory owners and capitalists of yore, and seize the oxygen from the plants without permission or compensation, and use it for our own benefit and enrichment.
How to solve this dilemma? You want to lower your oxygen footprint, but still find yourself feeling this overwhelming urge to inhale every time you stop breathing. (Trust me on this -- I've tried it.) One answer can be found in the practice of yoga; leading yogis have so mastered the art of breath control that they can raise or lower their heart rate and breathing rate at will. With sufficient concentration, you can practically send yourself into hibernation, where your oxygen footprint will be at a minimum.
If you're uncomfortable with the religious overtones of yoga and yet still want to achieve the same effect, you can simply stop moving around so much. That's right -- stay still, and relax. Chill. The more stuff you do, the more oxygen your body requires. So the answer is simple: Stop doing things!
You could also try only breathing in the contents of helium balloons and giving yourself a little squeaky voice, but that would entail raising your helium footprint, so I'm a little conflicted about that option.
|Open pit copper mine.|
Oh yeah, one last thing: Both pennies and nickels contain copper too, so please only buy things with prices ending in a "zero," and stop using these earth-destroying coins. Thank you for doing your part.
In writing this, I discovered that neon is a basic chemical element. Who knew? And what's just about the only thing neon's good for? Signs! And what do neon signs advertise? Corporations! And what do corporations cause? Global warming! So I can stop global warming by lowering (metaphorically, at least) my neon footprint, in one simple way: Stop buying anything made by a company that uses neon signs. Most locally-owned mom-and-pop stores use non-illuminated "natural" signs, because they can't afford fancy neon signs. Only big corporations tend to advertise with neon signs. Buy local, buy small! Boycott anything advertised with neon signs. Your neon footprint may be the most important footprint of all.
Pure fluorine is dangerous as hell and yet we put it in toothpaste and anti-depressant pills. How stupid do they think we are? Considering that fluorine is just about the most toxic of all elements, there's no way I'm putting that stuff in my body or my footprint. So it's time to throw that fluoridated toothpaste away! Mankind survived for millions of years without toothpaste, so why the sudden "need" for it now? Like underarm deodorant, it's just another unnecessary artificial chemical that's been marketed to us by the capitalist system.
The medicalization of nonstandard logic has lead to the stigmatization of the differently brained, and is just an excuse for Big Pharma to reap billions in profits by selling us crazy pills containing fluorine. Enough! Flush those pills, say "No" to the pharmaceutical industry, and let your mind roam free!
They say high-fructose sodas are making Americans fat. That may be true, but it's not the biggest problem with sodas. The real issue is what happens to the aluminum cans afterward! They're strewn everywhere across the American landscape. And the recycling industry only makes the matter worse, because people now don't even feel guilty leaving cans around, assuming that a street bum will come along and happily "harvest" all the discarded cans and get beer money for them at the local recycling center. Consequently, the litterers actually think they're doing a good deed, essentially leaving out money for the homeless!
But it gets even worse. Do-gooders think that recycling aluminum is beneficial for the environment. Not so! Recycling aluminum only serves to make the raw metal cheaper than it would otherwise be, since it costs less to re-process pure aluminum than it does to refine it from ore. The end result is an inexpensive material which only helps to grease the wheels of industry. The only way to stop global warming is to bring down the whole industrial economy, and the only way to do that is to make the raw materials too expensive to be worthwhile. So: Don't recycle! It just feeds the system. And don't litter either, because that's just rude.
In fact, the only solution is to simply stop using aluminum altogether. See if you can lower your aluminum footprint down to empty.
Since invading Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the United States has drastically increased its lead footprint around the world. Too many of those Iraqis and Afghanis who opposed U.S. imperialism have mysteriously died of lead poisoning. This is preventable! As a nation, we've got to stop using lead altogether. I was hoping Obama would outlaw the use of lead internationally as he promised, but if anything usage has only increased under his watch. Again -- WTF? As an American, I demand a complete cessation of lead usage. Lead is not the answer!
If we're worried that we're releasing too much carbon into the atmosphere, then why not counteract the problem by increasing our nitrogen output? Air, after all, is 78% nitrogen. A little extra nitrogen should balance things out. Since our bodies contain a lot of nitrogen molecules, when we die the nitrogen which we had been selfishly trapping for our own personal use is released back into the biosphere. Thus, a nice round of human self-extinction would release a substantial amount of balancing nitrogen, and have the added benefit of decreasing our carbon usage. Something to consider.
All Elemental Footprints
The measures outlined above are just a first step in the footprint elimination process. We should not rest until we've lowered (or, preferably, eliminated) our usage of each and every basic natural element. We can and should live so lightly on the land that we leave no footprints whatsoever.
I'm ready to make that commitment. Are you?