Take shorter showers! Eat less meat! Try biking to work or school every now or then!
Any environmentally conscious person has likely heard these messages to go green a million times by now. But it’s hard to not give up on efforts like these completely when social media is flooded with images of the ocean on fire, or the hottest summer ever every single year, or whatever the latest climate disaster is.
I grew my own asparagus to avoid the carbon emissions of the imported stuff, so why are the ice caps still melting? The simple answer is that the vast majority of climate change is the result of a few corporations trying to protect their bottom lines.
The Carbon Majors Report, published in 2017, revealed that since 1988 over 70% of all emissions of greenhouse gasses have come from only 100 companies. These few profit-hungry entities are what’s continuing to accelerate our planet’s plunge into disaster. That’s obviously not great for PR, so rather than making substantial change, they seek to distract, confuse and deflect. Their approach to this is twofold.
The first step was to deny.
Research by Inside Climate News shows that Exxon has known about both the causes and potential consequences of climate change since 1977, at which time they invested into researching carbon dioxide levels. This research was not released to the public however, and once it became clear that radical change would be needed to stop the course on which the oil giant was sending humanity, they slashed the funding for it to a meagre 150,000 out of their 300-million-dollar research. It didn’t stop them from raising the height of one of their natural gas platforms to account for rising sea levels though.
This lie of omission would be damning enough, but Exxon didn’t stop there. For years afterwards, they led a campaign of opposing mandatory emission reductions and climate change denial, the effects of which we are still seeing to this day. So maybe you don’t need to feel guilty when Exxon’s twitter asks you how you’re fighting climate change.
That brings us nicely to step two: shift blame to the individual.
In the present day and age, when anyone not caught up in the oil companies’ propaganda realises that climate change could actually be a bit of an issue, corporations have had to find a new way to squirm out of responsibility for the greatest existential threat that our species has faced. So began the push for the new narrative that if we all do our part, the crisis can be averted.
Big companies can make superficial change, which places the onus on the consumer, while avoiding taking any measures themselves. This can be seen in supermarkets asking customers to bring reusable bags, whilst half the products in the store are wrapped in plastic, in Starbucks ditching their plastic straws for paper ones, for your drink served in a plastic cup, or in BP’s advertising focusing on low emission alternatives, when 96% of their products are fossil fuels.
This ‘greenwashing’ is a deceptive attempt to make it seem as though they are making a Scrooge-like change into companies acting for the good of humanity, instead of soulless, self-serving groups of executives. While doing the bare minimum, they also try to make you feel as though you aren’t doing enough yourself for our planet. If you’re too busy being racked with guilt for buying a pack of Tim-Tams when they use palm oil, you’re not focusing on oil giants robbing future generations blind in the pursuit of pleasing shareholders. It can be difficult psychologically to hold people accountable when you feel as though you personally aren’t doing enough, but I promise you that these corporations have no such qualms.
So don’t let them get away with it. Next time you’re thinking about starting a compost, try going to a climate protest as well. Because the only way that we can change the path of impending doom we’re speeding down is by changes in policy targeting those really at fault.
The most meaningful action that can be taken is by the industries causing it; don’t let them stop you from demanding it.
This blog was written in 2021 by year 10 student Henry Rogers for a school project.