The Story of Upfront Carbon

How a Life of Just Enough Offers a Way Out of the Climate Crisis

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Carbon Upfront
The lens of upfront carbon
What are upfront carbon emissions and why are they important?
Why we are fixated on energy, not carbon
Carbon takes command
The IPCC does not say we're doomed
OK Doomer
History of embodied carbon
The carbon footprint of everything
The unbearable heaviness of carbon
Transparency from shoes to motorcycles
The future we want: supply vs demand
Dematerialization and degrowth
Enjoy the ride with demand-side mitigation
Why sufficiency is the solution

Chapter 2: Strategies for Sufficiency
Materiality: building out of sunshine
Materiality: use less stuff
Materiality: using less of the bad stuff
Satiety and enoughness
Operating efficiency
Design efficiency

Chapter 3: Stuff
Introduction to stuff
The single-use coffee cup
From the 2X4 to mass timber
The e-cargo bike
The heat pump
The puffer jacket
The hamburger
The folly of foam insulation
The car
The block of flats/ apartments
The shoe

Everything connects
A prosperous ascent

When you look at the world through the lens of upfront carbon, everything changes


When you look at the world through the lens of upfront carbon, everything changes

Think that buying an electric car or switching to a heat pump is going to save the planet? Think again. We must cut carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. But emissions are not produced just by driving your car or heating your home. “Upfront carbon” refers to all emissions involved in making your car, your home, or any other item.

As we seek to incorporate more renewables and less fossil fuels into our energy supply, upfront carbon becomes increasingly dominant compared to operating emissions, yet they are often ignored. This is why the pursuit of sufficiency, or making and buying just what we need, has become a powerful strategy for tackling climate change.

By focusing on consumption rather than production, The Story of Upfront Carbon:

  • Demystifies the complex web of cradle-to-grave life-cycle assessments, demonstrating that the accepted concept of “embodied carbon” is just one part of the carbon accounting equation
  • Establishes the compelling rationale for carbon minimalism, arguing that only through frugality, simplicity, and materiality can we address global inequality and avoid climate catastrophe
  • Shows how big-picture thinking and a broad, systemic approach to determining a product’s ecological footprint is indispensable to help guide the transition to degrowth and a zero-carbon society.

Packed with concrete strategies for minimizing the upfront carbon produced by transportation, agriculture, consumer goods, the built environment, and more, this highly readable and accessible guide is required reading for a world on the brink.