‘Carbon footprint’ was coined by an ad guy for BP. So why do we still feel guilty?

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Why do we feel a sense of guilt for our ailing earth? Because advertising executives designed it that way, and everyone fell for it.

Man on a bike
(Image: AAP/Darren England)

There’s plenty of advice about how to lower your carbon footprint out there at the click of a Google. Just divest your super from fossil fuels, avoid flying in planes forever, slash your meat intake (your dog’s, too), throw next to no garbage out, only catch electric public transport, wear second-hand clothing, and have one fewer child.

Our individual actions really add up, right? We consumers are the reason the earth is choking on pollution and headed towards the hottest year on record, and we can each do our part to turn it all around if we work together, right?

Twenty years ago, BP paid a bag of cash to ad guys to make sure we believe it — and feel guilty about it.


Keep reading to see the breakdown of the emissions pie. (Hint: you’re not the bad guy.)

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About the Author

Emma Elsworthy — Climate Editor

Emma Elsworthy

Climate Editor @emmaels

Emma Elsworthy is Climate Editor at Crikey, SmartCompany, and The Mandarin, and writes daily morning newsletter the Worm. Before joining Crikey in 2021, Emma was a breaking news reporter in ABC’s Sydney newsroom, a journalist at BBC Australia, and a journalist in Fairfax Media’s regional network. She was part of a team awarded a Walkley for coverage of the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfire crisis, and won the Australian Press Council prize in 2013.



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