Mainstream Environmentalism was Shaped by Corporate Propaganda

Regular people need to cut back on everything while corporations do business as usual

Deepti Kannapan


When you think of living sustainably or going green, what is the most mainstream advice that comes to mind?

Is it:

  1. recycle, and

2. decrease your personal carbon footprint?

Now, neither of these are bad things to do. But have you wondered why they are among the FIRST things that comes to mind, over volunteering at a nature preserve or joining a local environmental activism group?

Well, it appears that corporate propaganda has been dictating the conversation.

Personal Carbon Footprints

The idea of tracking our personal carbon footprint comes from a surprising place: an oil company.

Researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes write: ‘The very notion of a personal “carbon footprint,” for example, was first popularized in 2004–2006 by oil firm BP as part of its $100+ million per year “beyond petroleum” US media campaign.’

Why would an oil company do such a thing? Probably because they have us focusing on ourselves as consumers, rather than collectively demanding accountability from them.

Oreskes and Supran continue:

Experimental evidence appears to support this conclusion. Palm et al., for example, observe that messages framed in terms of individual behavior not only “decreased individuals’ willingness to take personal actions” but also “decreased willingness to [take collective action such as to] support pro-climate candidates, reduced belief in the accelerated speed of climate change, and decreased trust in climate scientists.” Illustrations of how narratives of individualized responsibility have protected fossil fuel interests from climate action are widespread.

(Emphasis mine.)

Now, the idea of a carbon footprint as a measure of our impact is sound, but in my opinion it only makes sense on an aggregate level. Countries, companies, supply chains, and industry sectors may well track their carbon footprints.

Many of us think that decreasing our “personal” carbon footprints is the best way to decrease our species’ carbon footprint (which is the only real metric that matters).



Deepti Kannapan

Painter, occasional cartoonist, aerospace engineer. Writes about sustainable technology, creativity, and journaling.