Everyone's concern but not everyone's responsibility
[spacer height="20px"]Amidst the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence in support of climate change, it would be virtually impossible to argue otherwise. Human influence, at least to some extent, has undoubtedly contributed towards global temperature increases and the rise of extreme weather events. But quitting meat and reducing my shower time isn’t going to change anything.
You should care about climate change; it’ll likely affect you or has already affected you in some capacity. It would be immoral, however, to place the guilt and responsibility of rectifying climate change on individual actions.
According to the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, 71 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be attributed towards just 100 companies. Of those 100 companies, a mere 25 contribute to over half the total industrial-based emissions. It makes sense then to focus on changing these companies’ ways rather than target individual consumers.
Initiatives for consumers to “go-green” have not always been accessible nor even effective. Take, for instance, the proposed controversial plastic straw ban. While well-intentioned, straws only account for four per cent of all plastic waste, and advocates in favour of straws often emphasize their importance for those with disabilities. While any reduction in plastic waste is important, we must critically evaluate such “green” initiatives to determine just how much positive change they generate.
Rather than imploring consumers to make changes in their lifestyles, most of which will not impart serious, significant changes towards the climate, efforts should be placed on forcing companies to change their ways. The 25 major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are largely oil and fossil fuel companies. Climate change initiatives thus should focus on changing, or even eliminating, this harmful industry.
If students have any responsibility, it would be to advocate for the reduction of fossil fuels, help further the development of clean, sustainable alternatives and hold corporations accountable for their emissions. It is your prerogative to participate in initiatives that reduce your carbon footprint but know that the actions of the individual can only go so far. Climate change is too large and too severe an issue to be mitigated solely by personal solutions.
These individual choices can only regain importance once we live in a society where undergoing the environmentally-friendly action is economically viable and accessible for all. There’s no doubt that solar panels are an effective alternative source of energy, but substantial benefits are not observed until a community of houses use solar energy rather than the few who can afford it. Students especially are often not in financially-available positions where they can afford to choose the most “environmentally-friendly” options.
It would be ignorant to shift the blame for climate change then on the working class. Instead, we must collectively work against corporate and governmental power to invoke meaningful systematic change that can then allow for individual responsibility to take precedence.
So, by all means, care about climate change. It’s important that we keep talking about these issues as without discussion, there can be no change. But there’s only so much that we as students can be expected to do. At the end of the day, the burden to reduce our carbon emissions to the levels required to save us all rests on the shoulders of those who made the mess.