Ecological Mouthprint versus Ecological Footprint


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Learning Action Avoidance from Rabbits in Anticipation of Disaster


22 Jul 2019 – Much is now made of assessments of carbon footprint, ecological footprint and climate footprint, and the strategies for their reduction in different situations. Focus is given to such preoccupations through the Global Footprint Network. The European Commission offers an Organisation Environmental Footprint (OEF) Guide (2012).

There is however a case for exploring the choice of the footprint metaphor given its associations with the most distant part of the human anatomy, however grounded it may be held to be — despite being necessarily left behind. More questionable is the sense in which a footprint is only evident when the cause of it — the human being — has moved on. It is not possible to view a footprint when standing on what creates that impression, although it is obviously possible to see that of others. Even more questionable is any implication that organizations have feet — other than as a somewhat demeaning caricature of workers, in contrast to the executives located at headquarters .

Is this a trivial perspective or does it raise questions which are carefully not asked?

An alternative metaphor might have been a handprint, as so assiduously studied on the walls of caves from the distant past. However that offers no immediate association with the environment. Potentially more powerful would be fingerprint, given its particular association with identity — lacking in the case of footprint (except from the perspective of trackers in the wild). The fingerprint metaphor does however feature in tracking some forms of environmental pollution. An ecological fingerprint might then offer an association with the identities of signatories of those strategies which may be disastrous to the environment. Whose fingerprints are indeed on the documents which are enabling such strategies at this time?

Why is no effort made to record systematically the disaster-enhancing signatures of the current period? Will this be a challenge for historians of the distant future — as with the anthropologists carefully studying the handprints of human ancestors on cave walls? Much effort is made to commemorate the disasters of the past, most recently of World War I with its millions of deaths. Will the predicted disasters not be more readily understood as the “ecological handiwork” of many — notably of consumers in the choices they make whilst shopping?

No commensurate effort is seemingly made to record the identities of those enabling the disasters to come. By contrast, even the smaller towns in Australia have cenotaphs bearing the inscription Lest We Forget. However, as used elsewhere, these apply only to the deaths in World Wars — not to the carefully forgotten local massacres of indigenous populations there. Fortunately electronic payments and credit card records will enable forensic studies of an extensive range of handiwork in an information-based society.

Use of faceprint offers another alternative, given the considerable investment in facial recognition software and CCTV coverage together with worldwide enthusiasm for Facebook. These could offer an historical trace of ecological relevance — to be distinguished from the death masks of the past, as with those of Pompei. Will the storage of such faceprints enable future commentary on those who fall victim to the variously predicted ecological distastes — or on those who enabled it? Lest We Forget?

Of greater relevance to the following, more intriguing is the possibility of distinguishing an ecological voiceprint. This could be done for those who have spoken out on ecological issues in an effort to influence understanding of the issue — possibly even to deny its significance. Here again there will be many video and other records to assist those of the future reflecting on the strategic response at this time. Rather than voiceprint, with its implications regarding the identity of the person with whom it is associated, the following argument subsumes that focus within a more general metaphor of mouthprint. What indeed might be an “ecological mouthprint” in contrast with an ecological footprint?

The argument here is that, possibly even to a greater extent than footprint, mouthprint is more directly related to the issue of global warming and of global warning — and therefore merits appropriate consideration. This is emphasized by the fact that it is seldom the case that in physical terms a footprint is a direct threat to the environment. Most of the arguments in that regard concern situations in which those involved are not “on foot”. With respect to transportation, the argument concerns the wheeled vehicles in which people travel and the far more indirect instances of emissions by footless buildings, factories, and the like, at which people work.

Does the footprint metaphor serve as a distraction from the nature of the environmental action for which the times call? Is attention required to other forms of imprinting with respect to the environment? Is there an unfortunate mixing of metaphors which merits consideration in that regard — even perhaps to be caricatured as a conceptual analogue to foot-and-mouth disease?

Given the remarkable recent implication of school children in climate action protest, the argument concludes by highlighting the possible learning from widely influential children’s tales featuring rabbits in environmentally problematic situations, most notably Watership Down (1972) and Winnie-the-Pooh (to a far lesser degree). Similar insights were sought in a previous discussion (Enrolling Winnie-the-Pooh’s Companions in Climate Change Discourse: key roles in the environmental psychodrama of Hundred Acre Wood, 2019). It is appropriate to note that the real world environments which inspired those tales were respectively concreted over or destroyed by fire in recent months. Given the surreal nature of the times, is there a “rabbit hole” down which humanity might choose to escape — given the inspiration offered by Alice in Wonderland as another such tale?

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