I have a theory that will likely not change the way anyone sees the world. That's what most of my theories are like, though.
The theory is this: an individual person's effect on the effort to curb carbon emmissions is greater than the sum of that person's measures to cut carbon. Say, for instance, that you cut out three metric tons of carbon from your carbon footprint by biking to work and unplugging your cell phone charger when not in use. My theory holds that your net carbon displacement will be greater than three tons.
How much greater it is depends on how visible your activism is. That's the crux of the theory, which is named after a friend of mine who lived on campus and walked literally everywhere. My friend graduated after a year, and I noticed in the year after he graduated my friends began to drive around campus more, instead of just walking from one end of campus to the other. I could attribute this change in emissions patterns to any number of things, but I think that the visibility of someone else doing these things suddenly makes it accptable, good, even right for others.
Of course, this is also the downfall of my theory. I have no skills in math, so I have no way of calculating how much one's visibility affects other people.
This theory isn't completely out of touch with reality, though. It is the same basic theory behind the grassroots movement, which holds that real change happens from the bottom up. It is the theory behind local carbon-free movements like that of Samsø, Denmark. It is even the basic sentiment of the old saying, "Monkey see, monkey do." That efforts to better the world are as important for their visibility as for their actual effort is not a new idea. My theory is likely not a new idea either, but it extends that same principle to the individual arena in hopes of saying, perhaps too optimistically, "Every person can make a difference."
So, the next time you walk to campus or to work, make sure you take the road more traveled. Instead of cutting through the woods or taking a bike path, walk along the main road. You'll thank me later.