7 thoughts on “CNN Video: Diet & Planet”

  1. Random gripe: Who came up with the term “carbon footprint” anyway, and how did it get so popular? If you think about it, it makes no sense. How is a quantity of CO2 a “footprint”?

    Why don’t they talk instead about “ecological footprints,” the amount of land it takes to support your lifestyle (including, I think, absorbing all the CO2 that you personally generate)? That term, I’m pretty sure, predates “carbon footprint,” it’s a better metaphor (since footprint = area), and it’s a more meaningful thing to visualize (since you can compare your footprint with the amount of land on Earth per person, whereas most people don’t have any idea what the consequences are of saving X tons of CO2).

  2. Buzzard asks:

    Who came up with the term “carbon footprint” anyway, and how did it get so popular?

    The clever men at Oxford offer this as the earliest recorded use of the phrase:

    1999 BBC Vegetarian Good Food Apr. 86/2 To cancel out the damage we do, Morrell believes we should plant trees, and that in doing so an individual or organisation can erase their carbon ‘footprint’.

    I have been unable to discover who this Morrell may have been, but at any rate, the possibility exists that the person who came up with the term “carbon footprint” was a vegetarian.

  3. The OED gives:


    footprint, n.

    Add: 2. a. Astronaut. The area within which a spacecraft is intended to land. (temporary.)

    1965 Science Year 321/1 Footprint, the proposed landing area for a spacecraft.

    b. The ground area beneath a vehicle or aircraft that is affected by the noise or pressure of its operation; spec. (a) (in full noise footprint) the area in which the noise exceeds a specified level; (b) the area of contact between a tyre and the ground.

    1967 Jane’s Surface Skimmer Systems 1967-8 67 (caption) The machine carries electronic mine detection equipment out in front of a jeep… The footprint pressure is thought to be sufficiently low to prevent detonation of any normal mine.

    1971 Aeronaut. Jrnl. LXXV. 596/1 The noise footprint on the ground is restricted to a small area beneath the aircraft.

    1971 Physics Bull. Nov. 657/2 The 90 PNdB ‘footprint’ associated with a large compound helicopter..during take off and landing would be of the order of 1100 ft from the pad.

    1977 Time 31 Oct. 17/1 Many of the 500,000 residents of New York City and Long Island who live near the SST’s sonic ‘footprint’ back the Emergency Coalition to Stop the SST.

    1984 Truckin’ Life Jan. 48/3 The superior performance capabilities [of steel belted radial tyres] are:..(e) Greater tractionimproved brakingdue to bigger footprint.

    1986 Aviation Week 20 Jan. 41/1 The aircraft is expected to have basically the same noise footprint as the passenger version.

    1986 Power Farming Oct. 47/2 (Advt.), Agricultural Radial Tyres have an increased footprint, providing lower soil compaction from the tyre.

    1991 Daily Tel. 25 Jan. 4/7 The ‘footprint’ of a B-52 bombing raid depends on the aircraft’s altitude.

    c. The area within which a broadcast signal from a particular source can be received.

    1971 IEEE Trans. Aerospace & Electronic Syst. VII. 235/2 This paper develops the expression for computing the footprint on earth (i.e. power density contours) of a satellite antenna.

    1980 Times 31 Jan. 17/5 The problem facing [Radio] Luxembourg is that their ‘footprint’..does not cover enough of Britain to make English language broadcasting economic.

    1985 Music 2 Feb. 15/4 Adjoining areas of advertising potential can be added to a [radio] station’s ‘footprint’ without losing local relevance.

    1990 Screen Internat. 21-27 Apr. 18/1 Medium-powered satellites have a footprint which covers only a little more than the domestic frontiers, so for a true European evening on TV, it will take collaboration between the different satellite TV owners in the future.

    d. Computing. The area of a surface (as a desk-top) occupied by a microcomputer or other piece of hardware.

    1982 Computerworld 27 Dec. 17/3 There will be a few major impacts. One area..is the introduction of terminals with smaller footprints that are designed for the executive’s desk.

    1983 MicroComputer Printout Sept. 65/1 Some systems permit the unit containing the disks and central processor to be stood on the floor, which makes for a smaller footprintthe amount of desktop space a computer occupies.

    1984 Your Business Computer Feb. 22/1 The 150 has a footprint measuring less than a foot..on each side.

    1991 Observer 22 Sept. 11/3 (Advt.), A true desktop size with a footprint no wider than a sheet of A3.


    footprint, n.

    An environmental consequence of human activity in terms of pollution, damage to ecosystems, and depletion of natural resources. Cf. carbon footprint n. at CARBON n. Additions, ecological footprint n. at ECOLOGICAL adj. Special uses.

    1979 Park Service Concessions Policy, Hearings Subcomm. Parks, Recreation, & Renewable Resources (U. S. Cong. Senate Comm. Energy & Nat. Resources) 799 An alternate proposal that would remove environmental footprint from Yosemite Valley..would remove a number of buildings, consolidate service, and reduce somewhat the number of employees.

    1988 Oil & Gas Jrnl. 29 Feb. 23/2 No doubt exists that Prudhoe Bay oil field has indeed resulted in a ‘footprint’ on the tundra and that minor permit exceedences and small spills have occurred.

    1994 Equinox Aug. 15/2 State-of-the-art technology will allow the company to ‘significantly reduce the industry footprint’ of drilling.

    1996 Earth Matters Autumn 11/2 Take what environmentalists call the ‘global footprint’ of supermarkets – those planet-wide supply lines that bring us carrots from South Africa.

    2003 F. BUELL From Apocalypse to Way of Life 148 The developed world creates more than its share of woe through the broadening footprint left by its economic machine.

    2006 N.Y. Times (National ed.) 17 May E12 (advt.) By lessening our environmental footprint, we’ll lower costs.

    The OED does not believe, however, that software engineers can speak English. In this it may well be entirely correct; certainly I have never encountered any evidence to the contrary.

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