Nowadays, hearing constant calls to stop climate change and the growing environmental crisis, you may find yourself feeling a little guilty. Whether you like to keep your house cool by running the air conditioning or have a meat-filled diet, your environmental “footprint” trails behind you. It may feel impossible to combat poor habits of consumption within a society that has, for all your life, told you to consume. However, we don’t have to combat the climate crisis by fixating on consumer practices. We can take a more holistic approach by also addressing corporations that cause pollution, along with broader environmental impacts like overpopulation.
Of course, consumer habits do have an effect on the environment, and if people want to engage in or encourage green practices, then that is a noble pursuit. It is clear that affluent populations tend to influence the environment to a greater extent than poorer populations, and we know that the polluter-consumer relationship goes both ways. However, what is in question is not the validity of this approach, but its feasibility; can we really convince enough consumers to reform their practices, or reverse the tides of consumerism and self interest that we have spent so long cultivating?
We should instead encourage top-down approaches as well. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research estimates that 63 percent of global greenhouse emissions from 1990-2015 have come from 100 leading corporations, with other studies indicating percentages from 60 to 70 percent depending on the kinds of emissions included. Internal documents show that corporations like Exxon Mobil and Shell have known about an impending climate crisis for decades but have rather openly shifted the responsibility onto consumers, whom they systematically lied to in ad campaigns, and governments, whom they have continuously lobbied. As such, we know corporations are going to keep harming the environment, and we need to introduce top-down policies like green taxes and subsidies as a result.
Another solution could be to address population growth, which arguably has the largest environmental impact, but is also a tricky problem to approach socially. Nevertheless, encouraging global opportunities and education for women, as well as developing economic, healthcare, and infrastructure progress in transitioning nations are both strategies that have proven to reduce population growth and decrease environmental strain. These examples of approachable top-down policies can combat the environmental crises at its most critical point.
So, instead of dumping the environmental crisis on the shoulders of the consumers, we should approach climate activism with a stratified methodology. If companies and nations reform, individual consumers will follow, and we can combat our collective environmental crisis in a more holistic and effective manner.
(Sources: LA Times, OXFAM, The Guardian, UN DESA, Vox)
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