Is Carbon the Only Thing That Matters?
BY Tom Szaky
Our entire "green" economic transition is based on carbon credits and global warming. Unfortunately that is ALL people seem to care about. While global warming is a crisis and is extremely important, it is only one aspect of the environmental dilemma that we find ourselves in.
The challenge with basing everything off of any single individual matrix is that it cannot fully capture many important factors that contribute to the overall environmental crisis. For example, how does the carbon matrix deal with the pollution caused by toxic chemicals? The carbon footprint of dumping chemicals in a river may in fact be less than if you trucked them to a location where they could be safely disposed.
Or how does carbon deal with garbage? Taking garbage to a landfill (as long as it doesn't result in methane production) may be the best thing to do from a carbon offset perspective. The examples could go on. How does carbon measure the loss of endangered species? the destruction of eco-systems through raw material harvesting?
My fear is that if we educate everyone that a good environment = low carbon emissions and that everything else is secondary, we may solve the immediate global warming crisis -- but we will not address the macro issue of having a truly green economy. The reason that it is important to deal with this NOW is that this is the first time in our history that people are thinking about the environment seriously as a mainstream topic. The limelight will not last long. Our responsibility is to ensure that we take as much advantage of it as possible while it is shining strong.
The solutions needs to be easy to understand and easy to administer. How do we change from the current ultimate solution being "no carbon footprint" to "no environmental footprint?"
Last updated: May 27, 2008
TOM SZAKY is the founder of TerraCycle, a New Jersey based company that makes fertilizer using worms and produces retail products from recycled goods. The firm was started while he was a student at Princeton University. Tom was named "The No. 1 CEO Under Thirty" by Inc. magazine in its July 2006 issue.