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The Issue with Individualism

By Amy Susnea

Climate change looms large and heavy on the horizon. But the disaster it brings is not some far off event. Its effects are being seen, now, in the fires that burned Australia and the typhoons that flooded the Philippines. It is so easy to chalk these disasters up to some overused joke about 2020’s inherent evil, but given any thought at all, a more sinister evil lies. Climate disaster has already begun, and people have already died from something avoidable, but their blood isn’t on our hands. 

Almost every discussion on impending climate disaster circles its way back to one term: your “carbon footprint.” Every discussion of impending climate disaster and our collective carbon footprint also comes with an inescapable sense of guilt. These discussions emphasize how you are personally killing the earth.. But you didn’t cause climate changes, and you alone can’t stop it. That power belongs exclusively to the same people that popularized your “carbon footprint”: corporations. 

There are infinite apps and sites dedicated to telling me, one person, how I am, personally, choking the earth of all things beautiful. VYVE, BP Oil’s app made for the express purpose of tracking my individual carbon footprint, tells me mine is 58 tons per year. BP’s carbon footprint is 415 million tons per year. Tell me again, BP, how I am the problem. These apps and sites, almost always backed by large polluters, work by dumping their guilt onto individual people. It takes four pounds of carbon to make a hamburger, and once shown this, there is nothing I can do but wallow in my guilt. I try convincing my mother to forsake meat-heavy cultural foods in favor of something bland but plant-based. The weight of climate change is exclusively on my shoulders, not BP’s, and so it is my responsibility to fix it. Greenwashed companies work tirelessly to push their false promises onto consumers to inundate us with guilt. It forces the question of “What are you doing?” instead of focusing on what they are not doing. This becomes the ultimate distraction. It is so easy to be caught up in it all: the guilt, the fires, the floods, and the corporate smokescreens. Every action means something, turning off the lights and turning off the water, but these are all bandages on  bullet wounds. Individual actions won’t stop the earth from burning. They won’t stop the ice caps from melting. Clean energy is possible today, but actions taken by lobbyists, corporations, and senators will see that it will never become mainstream.  People and homes are being sacrificed at the altar of profit, and this will not end until the altar is underwater. There is a deep injustice in the world that people, alone, can’t fix. 

Fires and Floods— The impacts of climate change are already visible in the form of many global natural disasters that will unfortunately increase exponentially if no large scale actions are taken.

However, don’t make the mistake of viewing climate disaster as inevitable. Don’t take the apathy of few as the future of many. Climate change has started, but it doesn’t need to continue. While nothing you do as just one person will reverse the legacy of centuries of corporate pollution, you don’t have to be just one person. Actions are already being taken by the collective and by communities. The bannings of single use plastics, each with their own issues, are helpful steps. However, they shouldn’t be the only ones. By recognizing that the fault lies not in ourselves or our individual lifestyles, but the companies and governments that lord over us, we are abolishing the ideas they try so hard to promote. The hundreds of CEOs and officials that are killing our earth have names and faces. This is not an unavoidable ending, but the calculated move by companies  for profit. Fighting against them with community actions is the antidote to the environmental disaster that ails us all.

 

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