Individual actions are insufficient in the fight for environmentalism

Danny Reinan, Contributor

Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, much of the focus of environmental activism has been centered around the actions of individuals. Campaigns that advocate for individuals to recycle, compost, reduce their carbon footprint and carpool with their neighbors have been vital in increasing visibility and knowledge of the impacts that individual actions have on the world around us. Yet this overwhelming focus on the actions of individuals obscures the root of the issue: large corporations are overwhelmingly responsible for carbonization, greenhouse gas emission and environmental destruction.

      According to a 2017 report from the Carbon Majors Database, there were a scant 100 corporations responsible for 70.6 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions between 1988 and 2015. This is a staggering statistic, dwarfing the combined emissions of the rest of the world’s population. This illuminates the reality of environmental degradation as an issue that cannot be reversed by individual actions alone and places the key to environmental change in the hands of these corporations.

     If these corporations were to construct a plan that separated corporate growth from further gas emissions, there could be a worldwide positive impact in the coming decades. On the other hand, as the report says, global average temperatures could rise by as much as 4 degrees Celsius in the next 28 years if emissions continue at the same rate. In a highly capitalistic society such as the U.S., corporations are a constant reality. Because corporate presence has become so intertwined with our lives, it can feel as though corporations are an amorphous force that is difficult to fully quantify. Something that we often forget is that, despite their larger-than-life presences, corporations are run by people — people who can potentially be swayed. But the question remains: how can we sway them?

    An environmentally-conscious individual may believe that the importance of preserving our planet should be enough alone to persuade corporations to reconsider their environmental impacts, and, indeed, some already have. Chevron, for example, has laid out a thorough plan for greenhouse gas reduction. Yet others still are not transparent about such policies. When living in a corporate-dominated society, creating change sometimes necessitates that your actions speak in a corporate language.

    While individual actions on their own are inadequate in the fight against environmental destruction, there is still a great deal that individuals can do, especially if their actions are focused on the corporations that are producing much of that destruction. Corporations depend on the support and consumption of individuals.    Holding corporations accountable for their actions, demanding that they adopt policies that put them on track towards reducing their environmental damage and rescinding financial support from the corporations that do not will forcibly steer them down the path of harm reduction and reducing emissions and carbonization.

    This all isn’t to say that recycling, composting and carpooling are useless — that’s far from the truth. Keep talking to your neighbors, keep taking public transportation when you can and keep considering ways to reduce your carbon footprint, but know that there is a higher level of change needed, and that change requires us to push for accountability from those who are doing the most damage. It can sometimes feel as though corporations run our world. It is imperative that we do not allow them to run it into the ground.

This article was originally published in the Jan. 25, 2019 issue.