Sunday, July 3, 2016

Carbon cost blind spots - cheating on your partner, soccer fandom, the German language, and beyond

Crime sells, we know, and a series of news reports on the carbon footprint of crime makes for guaranteed headlines. The 2016 version of studies includes this one from Yale, and this one from the University of Surrey.

They are fine studies, but the blogster vastly prefers this one from 2009, an ACPO Secured by Design research project of the UK police.

It may say more about the blogster than it* wants to divulge, but it regards the summary of the study as pure comedy gold: The report documents the failure to assess the carbon footprint of crime and responses to crime, both nationally and globally and speculates on reasons for this omission.
It reviews relevant literatures and notes the absence of recognition of the nexus between crime and carbon - profligate lifestyles. The writers contend that such recognition would profoundly influence social and criminal justice policy

The report does not say that EU criminals should have to get carbon certificates to offset the environmental damage of their actions, but it offers some insight into what it calls the crime-carbon blind spot, neatly presented in four sections:

1. The  mental unavailability of alternatives which would be less carbon costly.
2. The  degree of contingency and  consequent mental accessibility of carbon reduction  techniques.  How direct is the perceived  link  between action and carbon?
3. The costing of remedies but not problems.In carrying out a recent study of the perceived tensions between security and sustainability (Armitage et al. 2008), it became clear that such tensions arose because, while the carbon costs of security precautions were considered, the carbon costs of preventable crime were not.
4. The belief that effective crime prevention tends to a police state.

Based on these deeply intellectual thought processes, we can now investigate other areas life to determine which, if any, are marked by a clear failure to assess a carbon footprint.

Surprisingly, science has failed to address the carbon footprint of cheating on your partner or spouse despite this being an activity more prevalent than crime. In some countries, it is considered a crime, we'll ignore this awful fact.

The prevalence of cheating is obviously not easy to document, but there are many estimates and statistics out there, for example, on this website, which says that between 30% and 60% of married individuals in the US will engage in infidelity.

This translates into a lot of car trips, untold numbers of phone calls, many hours on the internet, hotel stays and more - all activities that contribute to the human carbon footprint.

Just as with the crime footprint, companies which operate carbon neutral reduce the damage but there can hardly be any doubt that the sheer volume of activities related to infidelity is many times that of the crime footprint. The four basic statements of the crime study apply quite well, especially the mental unavailability of alternatives. 

Another, more intermittent carbon boosting activity stems from European soccer fans. In many countries, fans get into their cars and go on joyrides when their team wins in a major tournament. The ongoing European soccer cup is a perfect example. Every win of the German team is accompanied by between 20 and 40 minutes worth of joyrides.
The same is not true in other countries. For example, when the Argentinian national team plays, traffic tends to come to a stand still for the duration of the game, which should reduce carbon output - even if there is a short spike in traffic afterwards.

Other high carbon footprint activities tightly interwoven with the culture of a country can include something as invisible as the language of the country itself.
Take, for example, German. Already expensive in terms of carbon because of long and complicated sentences, the push for more gender equality has inadvertently added to the linguistic carbon load! For instance, when talking of male students and female students, Germans often use the long version "Studenten und Studentinnen", instead of, say, simply use the female form in a university syllabus.

Look around, dear reader, and you will easily find many more examples of hard to solve carbon footprint issues.

The blogster leaves you with a succinct insight from the authors of the crime study:  A comparison was made earlier between crime and breathing. While seen as inevitable, calculating the carbon costs of crime and breathing are equally futile.

* Gender neutrality, baby, gender neutrality.

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