Myth #1 Lowering my carbon footprint is the most important action
This myth is half true. In general it is useful to prioritize actions that have a big impact on reducing your carbon footprint, but that is not always the best measure to prioritize actions. In fact, a preoccupation with footprint can obscure the most important actions to take. A more potent measure is to evaluate the ability of your actions to transform our systems so that they do not generate carbon emissions. This concept is at the core of the Replace strategy.
Imagine that you were able to find some small cabin in the woods and live off the land with no electricity and no car and zero consumption of goods. You would have Reduced your carbon emissions to near zero, so your footprint would be very small. But, you would have done nothing to change the systems that are creating carbon emissions. You would have done nothing to transform our energy systems that are at the center of the climate change problem. They would continue to create billions of tons of CO2 every year. So yes, it would be helping in a small way, but for the most part, the sources that are causing climate change would not be effected. And, very few people could successfully pursue that strategy, so it can not be scaled.
When we protest to block an oil pipeline from being constructed, or lobby for policies to favor renewable energy proliferation, these actions have no effect on our personal footprint. They might actually increase our footprint, because we may need to travel to do these things. However, they have significant impact on changing our systems, so they have more lasting benefit than living in the woods.
We have chosen to highlight 3 actions within the Replace strategy that will dramatically reduce your personal footprint, but even more importantly, these actions will change our energy systems permanently. These actions take revenues away from the problem industries and channel them to the industries we need to scale - renewable energy generation, battery development, EV production, heat pump production etc.
We often forget that the 3 R’s are a hierarchical system of strategies. That is to say that Reduce has more impact than Re-Use, which has more impact than Recycle. Replace has the highest impact and should be prioritized.
As a rule of thumb:
Replace a source of emissions if you can.
Reduce your use of a source of emissions if you can not Replace it.
Re-use non-emitting products as much as possible to avoid another one being produced.
Recycle materials at end of life when possible to help avoid new materials being created.