Recycle more, use low energy bulbs, use public transport or bicycles: just a few of the initiatives used to encourage us to minimise our impact on the environment. It’s pervasive in the media we consume, the advertisements we see, and the discussions around us. What are you doing to minimize your carbon footprint?
But maybe it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. The Carbon Majors report revealed that since 1988, 70% of carbon emissions globally have been produced by just 100 companies. On an individual scale, does remembering to turn off your computer rather than leaving it on standby really have an impact on the climate, when there are corporations exploiting the earth for their own benefit and ignoring the consequences?
Over and over again, we are told that to solve the problems of the world, it is on us as individuals. If we buy ethically sourced clothing, the sweatshops will go out of business. If we boycott tax evaders, corporations will start paying their due. If we start taking the bus, the pollution levels will decrease.
This message stops the corporations from taking responsibility for their behavior and allows governments to continue enabling those corporations. The consequences of carbon emissions are devastating, globally. Already, there is a migrant crisis caused by climate change in some African states as land is no longer suitable for farming. As a result, people who have made their living from farming are forced to move and often driven into poverty.
It’s not just that the onus is placed on individuals. It’s also the absence of eco-friendly infrastructure. Cycling on the roads can be incredibly dangerous, with cycle lanes often starting and stopping abruptly, a situation which does nothing to encourage people to alternate forms of transport. Many appliances touted as ‘eco-friendly’ are more expensive, and putting solar panels on the roof of your house is an investment of thousands of pounds; hardly accessible to those on lower incomes.
In our global capitalist economy, companies seek to maximise profits. Sometimes they do this by minimising costs, which is why we see companies sticking to resources and methods that harm the environment instead of making an expensive change. Often, they try to limit state intervention in markets, as that disrupts their business practices. Large petrochemical companies are known to lobby the US government in order to deregulate their businesses and prevent the government from implementing policies that safeguard the environment. After the Brexit vote, large companies such as Ineos have been trying to ensure that a Britain outside of the EU doesn’t impose tough environmental taxes or add further restrictions to fracking. In 2016, MEPs for the Green Party accused BP of blackmail for threatening to exit the EU if certain new environmental protections went ahead, and many of these protections were then weakened or dropped.
With billions of pounds in play and huge corporations working hard to slow efforts to protect the environment, how are we as individual people supposed to combat the causes of climate change? There are limits to what effects we can have when behind the scenes, those who have a huge impact on the environment are able to shape policies and governments to ensure they don’t have to change their behavior.
The safety of our environment is being bought and sold at a price far higher than most of us can comprehend, and governments of nations all over the world are complicit in this. The message we are sent is that every human is wasteful, that we all need to improve the way we move through the world and consume energy.
This message is a lie. Climate change is not our fault.