A Different Kind of Climate Denial

A+Different+Kind+of+Climate+Denial

Jack Ververis, Opinions Editor

   Last year, Shell Global- a company that hid climate change for decades and is responsible for 2% of world emissions- asked Twitter users a simple question: what are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?

   Gaslighting usually isn’t so literal.

   Climate change is often framed as a battle we all play a part in. One of the most famous measures of climate change is a person’s carbon footprint, or the total greenhouse gas a person creates daily. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of quizzes, studies, and activist movements have made it their mission to help people reduce their individual footprints and be more environmentally conscious. If we all live green, we can save the planet.

   It’s not enough.

   Through a long campaign of deception and advertisements, the true culprits of climate change- the 100 companies responsible for 71% of all emissions, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project- have found a nifty loophole: companies don’t need to change when their consumers are convinced they themselves are the problem. And while living an environmentally conscious life is undoubtedly good, activism based on advertisement doesn’t work. You aren’t causing climate change. You alone can’t stop it.

   Carbon footprint first entered the general consciousness not through climate scientists, but an oil company. In 2004, BP (formerly British Petroleum) introduced a calculator to help individuals determine their respective carbon impacts. The campaign was hugely popular with over 278,000 people using it in 2004 alone, and it matched with BP’s rebranding to Beyond Petroleum. In reality, the company wasn’t changing anything. As Mashable reports, in 2018 BP spent just 2.3% of its budget on renewable energy while still  shipping almost 3.8 million barrels a day. 

   But the conversation wasn’t about BP anymore. Just like how Exxon emphasized “consumer demand” while internally driving up emissions, or how plastic companies have spent millions on anti-littering ads, companies want to turnwz a political issue into one of individual responsibility. It’s common sense that if you drive to school then you hate the planet, after all. 

   However, it’s almost impossible to fully disengage from climate change- a study by MIT researchers found that even a homeless person will contribute over 8.5 tonnes of carbon annually. Last year, when millions of people restricted their travel and greatly reduced their carbon footprints, Nature Magazine found that global emissions only fell about 6.4%. There is no “green” life under fossil fuels, and our consumer choices are for moral complacency more than anything else.

   Moral complacency is political complacency. It’s leads to half-measures like planting forests as the main method against climate change, a policy the Republican party- which watchdog group OpenSecrets reports received 96% of the 2020 political contributions from the coal mining industry- introduced in congress last year. If we restrict ourselves to individual action against climate change, we miss the burning forest for the synthetic trees. It’s helpful, sure. But so is not destroying the planet.

   If we truly want to take action against fossil fuels, it cannot be done within a system built on them. There’s only one thing that every single citizen can do that will actually lead to change: voting.

   “My fear with the U.S.A. is the same as many topics that are based in science,” AP Enviro teacher Emily Massey-Burmesiter said. “It is and will continue to be politicized to the point where our overarching governments governmental structure will be deadlocked and not be able to make any real change.”

   The only way to skip this deadlock is to vote for and support policies which would promise radical change towards fossil fuels. Businesses have exploited the idea of American individualism, so the most important step is to work together. 

   Joining organizations like the Sunrise Movement and Just Transition, which campaign for policies like the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and Green New Deal, are real ways to actually gain power over climate change. Individual action can also have a real benefit if used with others. Numerous studies have shown that by installing solar panels and sharing their benefits, your neighbors are more likely to install them as well. 

   “Younger generations are going to be more impacted by large scale shifts in the environment,” Massey-Burmeister said. “It would be my hope that they would start almost a revolution in terms of change. 

   So remember: only you can save the planet. You just can’t do it alone.