Recently at a meeting about climate change, a website was recommended to me for stimulating and encouraging changing our lifestyle to earthfriendly ways.
The approach taken - Calculate (your carbon footprint), Compare (yourself with other people), Compete (to improve your performance) - is not my style, but it did get me thinking about the whole question of Carbon Footprint.
I visualise Carbon Footprint a bit like Buddhapada or those paintings of the Footprints of Christ after the Ascension; the reminder, legacy, consequence, of how we have lived our lives.
But, I don't see how it can realistically be calculated in industrialised society.
Our family members in the Hastings tribe house run no car, work locally, shop from small local businesses, choose fair trade and organic options, take no foreign holidays, use the heating frugally, have no tumble drier or dishwasher, have insulated the roof - you would think their carbon footprint was minute.
Until you start to think about it.
Last night in the Hastings tribe house we had a (delicious) Indian meal delivered from the amazing Bay Spice kitchen, and then we watched a film that we'd borrowed on DVD from the library.
What was the carbon footprint of that? How could we possibly calculate it?
The food came in a van loaded up with many orders - what proportion of the vehicle fuel and the manufacture of the van belonged to us? What percentage of the fuel in the kitchen and the manufacture of the equipment there? The meal came in aluminium foil containers with foil-backed cardboard lids. The vegetables (it was a vegetarian meal) may have been grown in our country: but what about the spices, and the grains? How were they transported from where they were grown? And the ghee - was it packed in metal drums? And the cows it came from? The grain they ate, the fertiliser to grow the grain, the milking machine components and the electricity to run it, the electric lights in the milking parlour for the morning milking before dawn?
And the film we watched - not just the electricity to run our television and DVD player: what about the manufacture of the TV and the DVD player (probably overseas), transporting them here, the manufacture of the freight carrier and the lorry, the manufacture and fuel of the car the lorry driver went to work in to start his working day? And the shop where we bought the TV and DVD player - the lights, the till, the shop fittings: their manufacture and the electricity to run them. How did the shop assistants get to work? Each in his or her own car? On the bus?
And then - the making of the film! The lights, cameras, studio equipment, all the people involved, their accommodation... it goes on and on!
It seems to me that the carbon footprint of eating the Indian meal and watching the film is incalculable.
So how could we possibly make a meaningful calculation of the carbon footprint of our whole lives? Even making the attempt is an exercise in learning how to ignore things!
This we know: to live simply, all the time, every day, in every aspect of our lives, to simplify - this is the earth-friendly strategy. Calculating, comparing and competing becomes unnecessary when we choose simplicity.