In carbon footprint conversations, what people fixate on--and what they don’t fixate on--says a lot. Not just about how silly the carbon footprint exercise is but also about how people determine environmental virtue/vice. (1)
Lots of recent talk on why personal CO2 footprints are misguided. They distract from bigger challenges of technological and societal change. Footprint policing is also often contradictory + arbitrary in its focus... as the case of video games shows. (2)
But is declaring next-gen gaming “an enviro nightmare” once again making a mountain out of a molehill re: climate/enviro impact? How do the emissions from gaming compare against something everyday and normalized like driving to hike in a state park? (4)
I compared the co2 emissions from a 6-hour video gaming marathon using different equipment in different US power grids to the emissions from a moderate round-trip hiking excursion by car (2 hrs driving total). It’s not even close. (5)
A gasoline-powered car emits 10-13 times as much as a gamer within one of America’s dirtiest electricity grids with a decadent cloud gaming setup. If the video gamer plays on California’s renewable-hvy grid with an efficient PC, the car emits ~80-104x more. (6)
Within the same electricity grid, even if the hiker has a Tesla, said hiker still consumes 3.5x more energy and emits that much more CO2 than even the most energy-intensive gaming setup tested. (7)
If you think about it, none of this is remotely surprising. It is flatly obvious that the energy needed to propel a vehicle weighing 1-2 tons at 90 km/hr is inherently far greater than the energy needed to run a gaming computer. (8)
So this brings up an interesting Q. Why is it so appealing to be distracted by the supposed enviro impacts of something like gaming? Why are we so relatively willing to overlook something like hiking that in practice involves much more emissions-intensive driving? (9)
The point of this isn’t to argue hikers are sinful or to spark a climate piety arms race. Rather this exercise highlights:
- sustainability discourse is influenced by cognitive bias.
- co2 footprint focus is silly, easily distracted and often counterproductive bc of biases. (10)
In this case, video gaming already comes with all sorts of negative stereotypes, stigmas, and societal hand-wringing, making gaming a tantalizing target. In contrast, hiking is virtuous, practically the official pasttime of mainstream environmentalism. (11)
To even write the headline “hiking is an environmental nightmare” feels like violating divine law… and yet in a head-to-head emissions comparison with video gaming, hiking (and anything else involving driving) is far more deserving of that label. (12)
People want to believe things they like also happen to be healthy + societally beneficial, while things they don’t like also happen to be harmful + societally negative. The desire for cognitive consistency, together w confirmation bias, are pervasive in enviro debates. (13)
Why do a majority of young UK citizens polled fail to correctly identify nuclear energy as a clean source of electricity generation? (16)
The atmosphere doesn’t care what one’s subjective preferences are, so motivated reasoning can produce obstacles + distractions that inhibit efforts to cut emissions.

Personal co2 footprints are a great example. Agonizing over personal habits is appealing yet meaningless.(17)
The right goals are large-scale. To power both video gaming and hiking globally on cheap, abundant, accessible clean energy, at which point debates about climate sin and virtue will have become totally irrelevant. (19-END)
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