In the last few years, there have been several initiatives on varying scales to get products containing genetically modified organisms labeled. Concerned consumers want to have more transparency regarding what goes into the products they purchase; companies think it will unfairly stigmatize their products. I-522, the initiative in Washington that would have pushed these labeling laws forward didn’t pass when it was on the ballot back in 2014. Countries in the European Union, however, have been labeling their GMO foods since the early 2000s, and have seen declining consumption of GMO products as a result.
While I’m not arguing for or against GMO labeling, I do think the conceptual framework it brings forth can be useful to shape consumer preferences and purchases regarding CO2e emissions. Pretty much everything we buy – food, toys, furniture – causes CO2e emissions during their lifecycle. For example, some studies suggest that eliminating beef from our diets could reduce carbon dioxide emissions more so than giving up driving. If consumers were more aware of the impacts of their purchases on these emissions, it might make them less likely to buy CO2e intensive products.
If we were to implement something similar on our food products – perhaps a rating on a 10-point scale – to identify how much CO2e goes into the creation of a product, it would likely impact people’s purchasing choices. It could help an indecisive consumer to decide between beef or chicken, or rice versus pasta. If it was successful, it could further reduce emissions by creating a competitive advantage to those companies that are able to produce something with fewer emissions, inspiring other companies to improve their processes.
Cap and trade of carbon credits is a powerful tool that the government can implement to reduce the carbon outputs from a producer perspective. But, we shouldn’t just let the cap and trade system dictate how much carbon is emitted – by putting some power into the hands of the consumers, we gain ability to add to the progress being made by federal policies and hopefully reduce carbon emissions even more than the government dictates.