I am not sure how my carbon footprint stacks up. It certainly isn’t anything to be proud of — regardless of your point of view. But don’t ask me. For it seems I can be triggered like a bear with a thorn (if said bear limited all his confrontations to email) by words and phrases I feel have become loaded — ‘carbon footprint’ being just one on a long list … So this is a behind-the-scenes look at how Amy Irvine, a writer in Norwood, wrote a story (pg. 20) about a tiny grocery store (FRESH), and how one sentence produced a week of spirited back and forth.
“For items that cannot be acquired nearby, FRESH sources from small independent organic food-producers who are closer than not—meaning the carbon footprint of a product is taken into serious consideration.”
I requested that the sentence be rewritten to exclude ‘carbon footprint.’ An editorial debate ensued.
I hear some of you saying, “What’s the big deal?” And others maybe saying, “Hallelujah.” And still others, exhausted by any hint of divisiveness, having turned the page (or worse, quit reading). It was my strong feeling that the phrase carried a repellent charge for some people including, quite possibly, your neighbor.
“[It] doesn’t point to anyone as good or bad,” Rachel Turiel, our managing editor, wrote to me.
Formidable point but I believed that was exactly what it did. Either you have a respectable footprint or you don’t. “It has become bumper-sticker talk,” I wrote, rather self-satisfied, thinking I had just checkmated everybody.
Nobody agreed with me. “To me, the FRESH hub is standing for local food and reducing the carbon footprint of food,” Rachel wrote. “That doesn’t have to be what you’re about or what the magazine is about, and yet when we’re telling their story that seems like a big part of their motivation. I am considering this a friendly ideological and business disagreement. Being in dialogue feels better, and I trust that we can hear each other and come to an agreement.”
Except I was unwilling to listen or dialogue as my thorn abscessed. “I am going to override you on this,” I wrote to her. Now I value peace with the people in my life far beyond being right, but only after I marinate in a lonely bath of my own righteous indignation. So this override didn’t feel good for long. After several days of perseveration, I apologized and then made another attempt at expressing my concern.
I tell her how I keep seeing these bumper stickers everywhere, and that I had even seen one that very day that read, “We’re Not Happy Until You’re Not Happy” with an elephant on the side that announced to the world the driver’s political identity. I told her how this lead me to a Google search for liberal and conservative bumper stickers which fielded a varied — often crude — and depressing haul:
“How ’bout I put my Carbon Footprint in your Liberal ass” (This is a popular one that I have seen on multiple occasions).
“Free Carbon Credits — Suck Here” (I warned you. Crude. This sticker has an arrow pointing in a suggestive direction lest you be confused where the tailpipe might be).
“My Carbon Footprint is Smaller than Yours” (This was set with an earthy font, which I guess serves to drive the point home in case there is any lingering ambiguity in the message).
“My Carbon Footprint is bigger than yours!!” (No ambiguity there)!!
“Jesus Would Drive a Prius” (I would argue that he would be driving a truck to haul his tools).
“Jesus was a Liberal / Jesus was a Conservative” (Lord, whoever you voted for, please save us all from ourselves).
So I suggested that Amy reword her sentence and abandon the phrase, but not the intent. I felt it would only serve to help her story — the implication still being clear — less fuel being burned is good all the way around.
“I have never seen any of these bumper stickers,” Rachel said. I envy her. In my world, they are everywhere. But it’s becoming apparent that I look for reasons to upset myself.
“It seems like what you are saying is that some people believe that liberals have co-opted the term ‘carbon footprint’ to push an agenda, and that makes the phrase unpalatable to people who view the term as political condemnation.” Yes, I said, “That is what I am saying” — minus the eloquence. And that was that. We heard each other and we came to an agreement. Besides, we have always agreed that we don’t tow agendas.
Maybe this was all a big something out of nothing. Or maybe there is an argument to be made that I am being ironically divisive about divisiveness. But I will argue that empathy matters, especially if you want to be heard. And we all want to be heard. I know I do.