Changing Climate Change

Everywhere on social media and in my day-to-day life, I hear and see people calling individuals to take action in order to combat climate change.

Everywhere on social media and in my day-to-day life, I hear and see people calling individuals to take action in order to combat climate change. From using metal straws to flying less frequently, there is always something an individual can do to help. As someone who is very concerned about the state of our environment, I find these things inspirational and somewhat useful, but recently I’ve found that these actions tend to get far more attention and media coverage in the conversation about climate change than the policies and practices of larger corporations and governments.

While I love that people are recycling, composting, carpooling and being generally aware of the different environmental effects of what they’re doing, this shouldn’t be the main focus or solution to climate change.

The focus in the conversation surrounding climate change should be what corporations are practicing and what policies governments are making to keep these corporations in check. According to a Carbon Majors Report in 2017, just 100 companies are responsible for around 71 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. And while consumers boycotting certain companies can sometimes work, the reality is that many companies which we think are separate and sustainable are just owned by the same larger companies we’re trying to boycott in the first place. According to Business Insider, the 10 companies Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, Associated British Foods, and Mondelez, control nearly all large food and drink brands in the world.

And an even bigger problem with this isn’t that consumers’ choices aren’t working in swaying companies to change their practices, it’s that individuals are getting blamed for choosing certain brands or doing things out of practicality. I’m not referring to the two seconds it takes for someone to recycle a water bottle instead of throwing it out, but I’ve seen people actually get shamed for using air travel to visit family or something similar. And in the days leading up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, I saw numerous outraged social media posts shaming and mocking the leaders of the world for coming together by means of flying and therefore emitting hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide into the air, ironically in order to discuss climate change.

When there are no other practical options, like in the case of air travel, the focus should be on creating and supplying environmentally-friendly options rather than placing the blame on individuals who have no realistic choice. Greta Thunberg’s sail across the Atlantic Ocean was incredibly inspirational, but simply not practical for everyone to do, and again, this shouldn’t be the primary concern. If there are no carbon-neutral means of air travel, then the main problem is exactly that: There are no carbon-neutral means of air travel. The problem is not that individuals are then choosing these means of air travel that contribute to climate change.

Our attention needs to shift from putting the responsibility on individuals to demanding change from corporations and governments. These larger organizations ultimately hold the most power in terms of carbon emissions and other pollutants. They contribute the most to climate change, so they should be the ones leading the charge against climate change, not the ones calling for individuals to do their part. Ultimately, it’s their changes in policy that influence the masses, and it’s time we recognized the immense power these organizations wield. The effects of climate change have already reached disastrous consequences, negatively affecting wildlife, crops, infrastructure, human health, economies, entire industries, and more. Thus, these issues need to remain extremely relevant among politicians and businesses as the negative effects from climate change continue to worsen and eventually dominate all other issues.

Individuals have the power to do incredible things. From the Youtuber “Mr. Beast’s” project to plant 20,000,000 trees to Greta Thunberg leading millions of people in climate protests, I have continued to be inspired and amazed by the stories and actions people have taken in response to climate change. The hope is that starting from individuals, then smaller communities like Lawrenceville, and eventually all the way up to government legislation, individuals can make a difference. But in trying to fix the root of the problem instead of leaving it to individuals to salvage what’s left of the environment, we can hopefully solve and reverse the effects of climate change much more effectively.