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10 Common Myths about Carbon Literacy

Carbon Literacy, at first glance, may look like an aimless expansion to our climate vocabulary and sound like further jargon to throw onto the pile of sustainability, eco-friendly, organic, and renewable terms that are overused and under-defined across (most) media.

On second glance, you realize that truly grasping the definition of each of these words can actually help form a clearer, more relatable, and more personal picture in our minds of the climate conundrum.

Collage of images, ape driving a ford convertible, dog in the passenger seat

What is Carbon Literacy?

By definition of The Carbon Literacy Project is the leading global body on Carbon and greenhouse gas education, Carbon Literacy is:

“An awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organizational basis.”

Being Carbon Literate means understanding the different paths that greenhouse gasses take to enter our atmosphere, and recognizing where and what human actions are contributing to the excess of these gasses to dangerous levels, and what actions cause them to decline. It’s knowing where and how you can take action in a way that’s relevant to your lifestyle, your work, and your budget. Let's take a look at 10 common myths about Carbon Literacy.

10 Common Myths About Carbon Literacy:

1. It’s the same as Climate Literacy.

It isn’t. Carbon Literacy is one component of Climate Literacy. It focuses on the role of greenhouse gasses in changing our climate. There are other factors impacting our planet such as environmental pollution and loss of biodiversity, plus, these factors are interconnected in different ways.

Carbon Literacy focuses on the excess greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere that have led to global warming because it’s the most crucial factor to address today with highest consequences to the masses.

2. Carbon Literacy isn’t for me, I don’t work in sustainability.

Despite what you might think, almost every job will be impacted by our shifting climate, and economy. Just as the tech boom wasn’t isolated to the tech industry, rather it found its way into construction sites, hospitals, farms, factories, accounting firms, hair salons, and restaurants. Climate touches every industry too.

Climate upskilling is a smart move for anyone who plans to stay competitive, relevant, and thrive in the new “green” iteration of global job markets. Whether its corporate teams responding to pressure from investors, or small and medium businesses needing to meet new sustainable standards from their clients – the aforementioned corporates – everyone’s going to need to adapt to stay in the game.

3. It’s basically about planting trees, eating vegan food, and not using plastic.

While these actions do lower our carbon footprint, Carbon Literacy is way bigger than this. Carbon Literacy is understanding that there is high impact and low impact beef, and chocolate. “Cocoa farmers usually clear tropical forests to plant new cocoa trees rather than reusing the same land.” – WWF.

High impact chocolate grown in a region driving deforestation has a far worse carbon footprint than a beef burger from a cow raised in a nearby town on a farm implementing regenerative practices.

Carbon Literacy is an awareness and a deep understanding of how the system on earth works, and an understanding of the core areas we can take action in.

4. There’s no point to it, my tiny action won’t make a dent in the problem.

More than half the Oxygen on Earth comes from tiny oxygen bubbles formed in the ocean, floating upwards by the millions to pop on the surface of the water and add oxygen to our atmosphere. Despite how grand a forest is as a whole, the benefits we reap come from individual cells on individual leaves that by the millions have the power to cool our planet.

In the book Atomic habits, author James Clear explains “All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” – Atomic Habits, page 22

Not only do your tiny actions make a difference, but these collective tiny actions, even if imperfect, may be our strongest strategy to actually be able to meet our global goals. To create genuine change we need millions of people taking tiny actions, not a handful changing their entire lives.

Also, see myth #2.

5. There’s no point, big companies with power are just greenwashing.

While this is true in many cases, there are just as many taking good green action. Their market share may be (far) smaller at the moment, but those are the ones to watch and the ones shaping the future industries.

Also, refer to myth #3. Every corporate action, every legislation, every massive change starts with an individual driving that idea forward and growing it through. Also see myth #2. There is a point to it; despite what greenwashers do.

6. It focuses only on Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Carbon is the umbrella term we use because CO2 is the highest source of excess gasses in our atmosphere. “In 2020, CO2 accounted for about 79% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.” – Environmental Protection Agency

Carbon Literacy covers natural and man made gasses. Methane, from biodegradable materials decomposing in landfills and from commercial livestock management practices. Nitrous oxide from commercial farming practices. Man made hydrofluorocarbons to use as cooling agents in refrigerators and ACs. And so on.

7. Carbon offsetting is the best action we can take today.

In truth, this is our last line of defense.

Think of the excess greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere as an overflowing bathtub. What would you do in this situation? Probably turn off the faucet and unclog the drain. Reducing our emissions from the source is the equivalent of turning off the faucet. Rejuvenating natural carbon sinks like soil and coastal wetlands is the equivalent of unclogging the drain. Carbon offsets in this scenario are the equivalent of paying someone to pay someone to dive in and fish for pebbles in the tub and remove it for you. And we don’t know their size to know their volume and the impact they’ll have diving put in vs the volume of the pebble they’ll remove. Is it worth it or is it making it worse? Proceed with caution.

8. It teaches how to stop all greenhouse gas emissions.

Not possible. Greenhouse gasses are good and part of nature, without them (and the greenhouse gas effect) Earth would be covered in ice.

Balancing greenhouse gasses through reducing emissions at the source and rejuvenating natural carbon sinks is how we get to Net Zero. When all we emit and all we sequester are the same.

9. Low carbon is the same as sustainable

According to Merriam-Webster, “sustainable” by definition means: capable of being sustained. : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. sustainable techniques.”

You can see this applies to far more than the environment. In the business world however, it’s an umbrella term under which companies strive to balance people, profits, and planet. Under “planet” there’s a laundry list of actions to pick from, for example, a manufacturer switching to recycled or plant-based raw materials doesn’t necessarily mean they are also assessing the carbon footprint of their operation.

Carbon Literacy doesn’t tell you which actions you should take, but it shows you where greenhouse gas emissions sit in the sustainability world, and in your world, and how to view sustainability from a more structured and holistic lens.

10. It’s scientific and one-way to receive information.

There is some science, of course, though the focus is on every participant getting the full picture, and understanding how it's relevant to them.

The number one reason people list as the value they gained in the course is that they couldn’t get from reading a book or watching a documentary, is the discussion and conversations with other participants. It's also the #1 reason listed that they would recommend the certification course to others.

The Carbon Literacy course is made up of interactive action-focused sessions that welcome skepticism, optimism, critiques, and doubts. It creates a space for authentic dialogue that sparks genuine curiosity and action.

As of December 5, 2022, there are 3,953 organizations and 46,469 people in the world certified Carbon Literate. This number is rapidly growing at an average rate – they just added 2,828 in the past 11 days! Sign up for our next course to get Certified Carbon Literate


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