Abstract

This article considers carbon footprints as a form of climate governance. Drawing on science studies to consider the contingent nature of calculative devices and governmentality studies to examine the intrinsic relationship between how problems are framed and remedied, this article advances two arguments. First, it argues that efforts to define and deploy carbon footprints contributed to a conceptual shift in emissions accounting, from a narrower metric focused on emissions from fossil fuel and electricity use—Carbon Footprint 1.0—to a more expansive metric that includes emissions embodied in consumption and trade—Carbon Footprint 2.0. Second, this article argues that these approaches to carbon footprints at the individual level have intersected with broader discussions about allocating emissions responsibilities and examining mitigation strategies at the national and international levels, offering alternative grounds for assigning responsibility for climate-change mitigation and expanding the range of policy options available for addressing emissions.

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Author notes

* I am grateful for helpful comments from Beth DeSombre, Samuel Barkin, and three anonymous reviewers. I also appreciate Anli Yang's and Isabella Gambill's research assistance.