It’s almost ironic that a report about an issue largely tied to the worst aspects of capitalism was released on the same day as a holiday celebrating it. If you haven’t heard, the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released on Black Friday. And if you haven’t heard, it was probably intentional. The timing of the release led to accusations of attempting to “bury” the report, or release it when the least amount of people would be paying attention, distracted by the great deals of the day.
Maybe if you were out shopping, you wouldn’t have noticed that we aren’t doing too hot when it comes to curbing this problem. The report concludes that we are already seeing the effects of climate change in the form of “more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events.” According to the report, this could include catastrophes such as the frequent storms that have left communities demolished, as well as the raging wildfires that the West Coast is still trying to fight. Climate change will negatively affect the country’s infrastructure, it’s agriculture, it’s ecosystems and it’s economy in ways that are all detailed in the report. If you want to see the Great Barrier Reef, you’d better move fast at the rate that we’re going.
Despite the fact that the majority of scientists believe that climate change is both dangerous and caused by human influence, there remains a lot of misinformation regarding the issue. Many people in positions of authority remain unconvinced in these findings. Our president, for instance, has stated his skepticism about his own administrations findings on the subject. In a recent tweet, he stated that the wildfire disasters were caused by “poor forest management,” and claimed that countries like Finland are able to avoid these problems because they “rake the forests.” Simplifying the issue like this masks the real problem and makes it difficult to find a proper solution. And while this example is obvious, that same reductive attitude unfortunately persists on both sides of the issue.
How many times have you heard that it’s your duty to save the planet by going green? Whether that means avoiding straws, taking the bus, or driving an electric car, a lot of responsibility has been put on the individual to reverse climate change. And, to be clear, none of those are bad practices and it’s good to do your part. However, framing this issue so that it seems like we could roll back the effects of climate change by riding a bike three days a week is also a dangerous attitude to have. It’s reductive, and it’s a misdirection. The average person is not responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions that are linked to causing climate change.
In fact, according to several studies, there are about a handful of corporations that are responsible for the majority of greenhouse emissions. Some studies, such as the Carbon Majors Report, estimate that 100 companies are responsible for as much as 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s an important fact to remember when looking for a solution, because as much as we want to believe that we can change the course of history by choosing to dry our clothes by hand instead of with the machine, it’s not going to be enough. We need to focus our energy on those who are actually responsible.
Amid pressure from consumers, several of the companies listed in these reports have been considering more environmentally friendly options. So before you try to convince your neighbor to go green, you might want to start by writing a letter to one of the companies instead. And that doesn’t mean that you should stop making environmentally-friendly decisions. It’s important to be the change that you want to see. But, if you really want to see that change being made, aim your efforts at those who have the most power to change it. Because, unfortunately, the future of the planet lies within the hands of a select few companies. However, the future of those companies lies on the consumer: the customer. And if they want your business, let them know that they’re going to have to work for it.
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