Weeks ago, the skies around the West Coast took on a surreal glow as smoke from wildfires blazed throughout the region. Photos of smoky and ominous skies in cities such as San Francisco and Portland spread across social media, showcasing just how devastating and apocalyptic the wildfires raging the nation are. Air quality continues to worsen and the nightmare of these wildfires only offers a glimpse of what is to come unless humans drastically change in order to address climate change.
After decades of scientists’ warnings about the effects of climate change to no avail, it feels as if the world is at the point of no return. With America’s catastrophic divorce from science, demands on the individual to heal the climate have heightened but, there is simply no quick fix to the West Coast’s catastrophe.
In order to address climate change, the public conversation has shifted the responsibility onto the individual. Individuals are asked to take public transport, purchase electric vehicles, eat less meat, adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet and a plethora of more demands. While individuals should take responsibility for their carbon footprint, the problem is that the obsession with reducing one’s own carbon footprint is harmful. We have until 2030 before climate change damage becomes irreversible but, we cannot place all the responsibility on individuals. Since 1988, 100 fossil fuel companies produced an estimated 70% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions alone. In that same period of time, only 25 corporations and state-owned entities were responsible for more than half of global industrial emissions. While both arguments make sense, it feels futile to focus on individual consumption. People should focus on at least doing their part but, we also need to demand that these companies take drastic measures to reverse the damage they have caused.
These companies are the driving force behind a chain reaction of greenhouse gas emissions. They produce fossil fuels and then consumers use them. Whether that be individuals, corporations or households, these companies have the responsibility to ensure that their products do not cause even more catastrophic damage to the environment. The target is that the world achieves no more than 1.5° Celsius of global heating but we have little chance of achieving that if the framework of fossil fuel emissions is not eradicated or drastically changed. Despite this, the oil and gas industry is set to spend $4.9 trillion over the next ten years on exploration and extraction in new fields. And yet, there is still a widely accepted notion that reversing climate change rests entirely in the hands of consumer choice.
Impoverished people living in other countries outside of the West specifically take the brunt of the blame for climate change but they deserve the least amount of guilt. They merely are not the principal perpetrators of climate change and they don’t have the power to address climate change on a global scale the way governments and corporations do.
By changing our consumption patterns on a larger scale, we might be able to convince companies to alter their production methods to be more sustainable but statistically, individuals are blameless in comparison to corporations. Climate change is a global problem that individuals cannot solve on their own. Governments should bear the brunt of reversing climate change and they have the power and influence to administer legislation that forces corporations to act sustainably.
Some legislation that governments can enact are regulations that corporations must stay within sustainable emission limits. They can also enact legislation that enforces corporations to adhere to environmental protection standards. Governments also have a responsibility to allow individuals to easily make more responsible and sustainable decisions. Recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom passed an executive order that directs the state to require that by 2035, all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California be zero-emission vehicles. This is a good example of how governments and politicians can take the necessary and drastic measures to reduce fossil fuel emissions to fight climate change.
Yes, individuals can make a difference by personally taking the necessary steps to change their behavior and reduce their carbon footprint but, individuals should not be blamed for climate change. Individuals are the one’s being affected by climate change and bearing the burden of the harmful effects of climate change, so how can they address the cosmic issue all on their own? Corporations need to be held accountable for the destruction that they are causing and governments are the most powerful tool to do so.