Footprints: taking the right steps towards gobal sustainability

Footprints: taking the right steps towards gobal sustainability

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Figueroa, Aurelia
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Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) (The Current Column of 13 August 2012)

Bonn, 13 August 2012. Carbon footprint, a measurement of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of an entity, is proving to be one of the great buzzwords of the 21st century. Yet, in order to reach many of the achievements which are required to shrink carbon footprints – and more broadly, address global challenges – still another footprint must be addressed in order to ensure social acceptance and, correspondingly, implementation: the psychological footprint.

Traditionally used in the context of stress caused by disasters, a psychological footprint is intangible, emotional residue. It is meaningful, especially to the person by which it is perceived. In the context of global challenges, it is particularly relevant as many proposed or existing technologies, innovations, and policies are still psychologically unpalatable.

Psychological footprints deal with concerns ranging from frivolous to serious. For example, many would contend the reluctance of a teenager to drive an “uncool” fuel efficient vehicle with lower carbon emissions to be a frivolous complaint. On the serious side, an example would be the challenges presented to herd immunity by the reluctance of some to be inoculated due to fears related to past vaccine scandals.

Unfortunately, even in the case of concerns which may be perceived as frivolous, once these psychological footprints present themselves, they are barriers that must be surmounted in order to gain public buy-in for a potential solution. We are continuing to see that the question of how policy and technology solutions can be made socially acceptable is one of the great challenges of our time. It simply cannot be assumed that if something is invented, innovated, or legislated, it will be implemented. As such, learning from existing examples in shrinking psychological footprints can be beneficial.

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