Carbon Guilt Trip

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

It was interesting to see reactions to the Bali climate change conference last week; You had some people arguing that the meeting was the last best hope for finding some sort of solution, and other people criticizing the whole thing as a huge waste of energy (just calculate the carbon emissions of a flight from DC to Bali!). It's that kind of back and forth that drives Gerald Skoning nuts, and pushed him to vent that, "the 'Go Green' movement has laid a major guilt trip on all Americans.... Enough!" In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, he explained that of course he wants to help the environment... He recycles, and drives a fuel-efficient car... and STILL feels guilty because "greenies" tell him he should drive a hybrid! We hear that divorce is bad for the environment, that Hanukkah should be celebrated with one less candle to lessen the holiday's carbon footprint. Is all this guilt and fear what we need to get people to change their habits? Or as Gerald asks, does guilt just lead to paralysis and do no one any good?



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We all have carbon footprints larger than optimal. I think the key is to provide "awareness" so we can make informed choices. This is especially true for our children. That's why I started the Web site Thanks for recognizing what a "BigFoot" is today.

Sent by Eric Greene | 2:38 PM | 12-17-2007

The problem is not a little guilt experienced by some of us do gooders. It's the complete lack of any consideration of a carbon footprint by the majority of Americans.
I do think of the carbon consequence of everything I do, but I know many friends and neighbors who never consider it, and hop in the car to go get a coffee in and throwaway cup.

Sent by cary mallon | 2:50 PM | 12-17-2007

Wood will give off co2 in the fireplace, or when it decomposes naturally. The candles are oil based, and take a permanently stored co2 and release it.

Sent by John Fischer | 2:51 PM | 12-17-2007

I do feel guilty whenever I don't recycle something, and I agree with
your speaker that they should tone-down the guilt trips. It does
alienate us average recyclers, who truly care about the environment and
do what we can: but live in a realistic world where real-life takes
priority. I think THE GOVERNMENT should do more....

Sent by Michelle | 2:51 PM | 12-17-2007

People need to know what they can reasonably do, of course, but they also need to know WHO are the pressure points on which political pressure needs to be pressed, and WHO are the leaders who are not leading, and how to get them to move or get out of the way.

The solution, in the end, will not just be personal choices to reduce consumption, but less consumption will either happen or we are SOL.

Sent by Michael Jefferis | 2:52 PM | 12-17-2007

I'm not having any children. That's why I drive a gas guzzler. When I'm dead and gone, your children and grandchildren will still be burning fuel, farting, etc.

Sent by Mike | 2:53 PM | 12-17-2007

Everyone is ignoring a HUGE elephant in the room--how much greener the Earth would be if we all adopted plant-based diets. The stress on the environment from factory farming, meat processing and rendering plants, and their garbage and byproducts enters into the atmosphere and is poisoning us. I just wish people would investigate the possibilities and advantages of a plant-based diet in addition to all the hybrids, recycling, and alternative energy sources.

Sent by Nan Weber | 2:54 PM | 12-17-2007

RE-USE!! Buy second hand clothes, furniture, etc. There are few things that really need to be purchased new. Don't throw useful things away, donate them.

Sent by ruth | 2:55 PM | 12-17-2007

I work for a nonprofit called and we are a carbon offset provider for several presidental candidates as they travel around the country. I would suggest that they are not motivatedby guilt ; rather they are acting out ofpersonal responsibility to compensate for an action that is a fact of life for many people including your guest! Responsibility - not guilt is a better way to motivate.

Sent by Michael Stewart | 2:57 PM | 12-17-2007

It seems that on a number of programs on npr that it seems it is already to late on the global warming issue. to many under-developed countries wanting a piece of the good life, etc. The other piece of the puzzle is population. Was it
Hawkings or sagan who said we have to get off the planet or reduce population?

Sent by Jesse Martin | 2:58 PM | 12-17-2007

I didn't hear any actual examples of guilt trips- only the speaker feeling guilty. Perhaps this is a case of his own defensiveness more than the "greenies" as he says.

Also, I agree with Nan- his suggestion that some things will unavoidable cause pollution, such as livestock and methane, was absolutely off base. It is not unavoidable but a pollution people contribute to directly each time they decide to make beef instead of vegetable stew. Each time at the store they buy meat rather than plant-based proteins. This denial of meat-eating as a wholly wasteful practice is truly incomprehensible to me.

Sent by Jenny | 3:16 PM | 12-17-2007

I find some of the comments and suggestions about how to conserve ironically if people were discovering things for the first time. One listener suggested using larger bags of potato chips and putting them in smaller bags yourself. It's a shame that more of the current "environmentalists" weren't raised by parents who grew up during the depression. If they had been, they would have been saving, conserving, and not acting wastefully their entire lives. It's a shame that all the lessons of the recent past were lost and need to be "rediscovered," this time to save the planet, rather than families who were not raised with a choice to be wasteful.

Sent by Mona Prater | 3:44 PM | 12-17-2007

Those of us that are responding to this question have made sacrifices or decisions to lead a 'greener' life, even Mike who doesn't want children. But if there is any elephant in the room, it is the "different" facts that all of us live by and believe to be true when it comes to being eco-friendly.

Just as in any major event that requires a large number of people to change; it requires leadership. The wide number of people that effect CO2 emissions everyday have the power to change our "bigfootprints" every day. The only barrier at this point is the education and direction that that population is moving; in every.

Sent by Joseph Harris | 6:46 PM | 12-17-2007

Once upon a time the Cherokee, Maya, and !Kung lived in harmony with nature. They built around nature, not over it. They hunted (and ate) animals, but there was NEVER more taken than could be used.
Then the Europeans came. With their greed and technology. With them it is ALL about what I have, what I want, to give their children a "better life",(as if they deserved it).

As Ruth said,"RE-USE!! Buy second hand clothes, furniture, etc. There are few things that really need to be purchased new." And re-using saves 100% of the energy to produce those shoes/jars/cans/sweaters/.... etc. But, the truth is people want NEW! New look, new house, new car, new friends, new everything! And BIGGER too!
The fact is that fully 2/3 (67%) of the U.S. economy is driven buy CONSUMER spending (not vegan/recycler spending).

How to help you ask? Next time you buy a NEW car, buy one that is the "right size" and gets better mileage. New house, replace all of the bulbs with those new LED lights (they last 50,000 hours). And stop talking, humans produce twice as much CO2 when talking than when reading.

PS- Nan, Jenny don't cook your vegan food either (no CO2 emissions from cooking)!Food poisoning (maybe?), carbon emissions ,zero.

Jesse, Carl Sagan was advocating space travel (Burn MORE stuff!)

Use less, buy less often (and ONLY what you NEED),and have MORE money left in your pocket TOO!!!! Spend responsibly!

Sent by Harold | 1:57 PM | 12-18-2007

I was struck by Conan's comment that bringing wire hangers back to the dry cleaner's sounded like a good idea not only because it recycles them, but it also keeps the hangers from poking holes in our plastic garbage bags. No one on the show batted a verbal eye. Isn't purchasing and using plastic trash bags the first and most obvious thing we can give up if we're trying not to fill the land with toxic non-biodegradable stuff? Guilt or no guilt, who wants to make their day's trash a legacy for our descendants to find in that same plastic bag years from now?

Sent by Dorothy | 2:26 AM | 12-19-2007