It is tempting to dismiss personal responsibility for lowering one’s carbon footprint. After all, it was bp that popularised the concept in the mid-aughts, telling everyone that it was “time to go on a low-carbon diet”. The company knew full well how impossible that was, much like its own ambition to go “beyond petroleum.” Instead, sharply cutting emissions take changes in business operations, advances in technologies, new incentives for financing and muscular government policies—in addition to individual efforts.
Not all personal actions are equal. Refusing a plastic bag at a sales counter looks saintly but it won’t do much, especially if one then carries the bagless products on to an aeroplane. Scale matters, as do actual emissions reductions. There are good reasons why airlines offer to offset flight emissions: it makes passengers feel better and fly more. The illusion of progress that comes from performing small, single actions is a cognitive bias that undermines real advancement.