Climate change is the greatest threat the world currently faces. With rising awareness, society now expects people to be more conscious about their plastic use, consumption behavior, and recycling habits. As a result, people buy locally sourced food, recycle their plastics, and are mindful of water and energy consumption.
New eco-friendly products are now being used in restaurants and supermarkets, like plastic-free straws and reusable bags. After all, the alternative now reminds everyone of the impending temperature increase, glacier melting, and tear-jerking videos of turtles with straws up their noses.
The consumer’s guilt is at an all-time high, and it makes sense. No one wants to contribute to this horrible issue. These actions make the planet and communities healthier and cleaner and should be continued.
But, is the sole responsibility of climate change on consumers? Or does the problem lie elsewhere?
Are Consumers Really The Ones to Blame for Climate Change?
A popular new movement focuses on banning plastic straws, and although this is helpful, plastic straws make up less than 1% of plastic waste in oceans. The reality is that the impact is too low-scale for significant change, especially with the small amount of time left to try and lessen the damage made by greenhouse gas emissions and waste.
As Harvard Political Review points out, “The idea that banning plastic straws has a significant ecological impact suggests that consumer choice can make all the difference.” Such a statement is simply not true, but as consumers, we keep hearing it over and over again.
In reality, The International Energy Agency estimates that individual behavioral changes would account for about 4% of the necessary reductions to prevent the world’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yes, you read that right. Even if individuals did do their part in fighting climate change, it would only account for 4% of the reductions humanity needs to make to save the world.
So the fight needs to continue all the way to the big players, the true creators of climate change: the oil and fossil fuel industry.
Who Is Responsible for Climate Change?
Only 100 investors and state-owned fossil fuel companies are responsible for around 70 percent of the world’s historical GHG emissions since 1965. The top 20 are responsible for about 35% of it all. Companies like Chevron, Exxon, and Shell were near the top of the list of highest emitters of greenhouse gas.
But after all, fossil fuels have been a necessity for decades, if not hundreds of years. Moreover, consumers purchase these products every day, so why should these companies be held responsible?
The short answer: denial and propaganda.
The fossil fuel industry spends billions on denying climate change science and misleading the public about who is to blame for the climate crisis. “They simultaneously lobby for trillions of dollars in subsidies that cheapen fossil fuels and make it more difficult for alternative renewable energy sources to compete fairly in the marketplace,” says the Harvard Political Review.
After all, the largest five stock-market-listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200 million each year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.
Fossil fuel companies have been aware of the dangers their products bring and never acted on it. Richard Heede, working at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, told The Guardian that, “Leading companies and industry associations were aware of, or willfully ignored, the threat of climate change from continued use of their products since the late 1950s.”
Yet, their thirst for profits not only led them to ignore the facts. It also led these companies to invest in covering them and shifting the blame for climate change rather than investing in cleaner energy.
The fossil fuel industry does not only target policies, but the public too. Ben Franta, a researcher pursuing a law degree and Ph.D. at Stanford, is part of a group of researchers investigating how the fossil-fuel industry uses propaganda to divert its blame in climate change.
He told Business Insider, “The framing is: ‘No, we the companies are the good ones. We’re working on the problem, and we want you, the consumer, to join us in our positive efforts.” Clearly, this is not the case.
Denali Nalamalapu, a communications specialist for the climate organization 350.org, also agrees, telling Insider, “It’s almost become natural, when people think about the climate crisis, to think of individual action” (…) “Which is super convenient for fossil-fuel corporations.”
But some people believe that the oil and fossil fuel industries are being placed too much blame. Robert Stavins, a professor of energy and economic development at the Harvard Kennedy School, told the Harvard Political Review that he disagrees with the sole blaming of the fossil fuel industry.
Stavins points out that the fossil fuel industry provides a necessary product used by billions every single day. He also added that they are currently working on expanding into natural gas production, a safer alternative and what Stavin views as an important transition from fuel.
But, the Harvard Political Review pointed out that even though oil and fossil fuel companies advertise themselves as prioritizing future renewable energy, they still spend more money on denying climate change science than on renewable energy research and development.
Why Is This Issue So Important?
As long as companies keep getting away with shifting the blame onto the consumer or lying about their true intentions, they continue to pollute the Earth with almost no repercussions.
This harsh reality should not discourage people from everyday acts of environmental consciousness. After all, they have an observable impact and are necessary to create a more mindful generation. But ultimately, they are just the tip of the iceberg in what needs to be done.
All of this information can cause a feeling of helplessness, but it should do the opposite. Awareness is key, and it’s necessary to contribute to the world’s growing climate crisis. Everyone can help by voting for politicians diverging from oil and fossil fuels, supporting companies seeking to lessen their impact of greenhouse gasses, and even just sharing the information forward.
As consumers, we vote with our dollars. We ought to spend it wisely on companies who are genuinely committed to helping build a sustainable future – not those covering their acts. And we should do so collectively for the impact to matter. And before it’s too late.