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How You’re Responsible For The Climate Crisis

By: Isabella Gattuso

A digital clock was unveiled in Manhattan’s Union Square mid-September promising to tell watchers how long people had left to act on climate change. Andrew Boyd and Gan Golan, the artists of the clock, explained that the clock is counting down to the very second when Earth’s carbon budget would be depleted.

As of now, the clock has a little over seven years left until the earth falls into considerable turmoil. However, the prominence of the doomsday clock begs the question: can the average human change their future? Or is this another act of fearmongering that the public is helpless to combat?

To answer this, we must look at what is primarily causing the majority of the emissions. According to a Carbon Majors Report, just 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of greenhouse gases since 1988. While companies like Apple, Tesla, and Nestle have pledged to become more environmentally friendly by converting to ethically sourced products and renewable energy sources, others continue to hold the climate movement back.

Former CEO Rex Teller of Exxon Mobil announced in a statement seven years ago that “the average temperature hasn’t really changed” and cutting oil would make it harder to lift the 2 billion who live in poverty out of poverty. The current CEO, Darren Woods, shared his views. While Woods did take part in some climate action, refused to engage in a “beauty competition” with competitors. Unfortunately, this implies that company heads view the climate movement as a popular movement rather than a necessary one, spelling a doomed future if the companies are unwilling to change and invest in cleaner technologies.

Some politicians are also reluctant to support more environmentally friendly regulation. Their thoughts seem counterintuitive as the environmental campaign has been becoming extremely popular among voters (A study by ABC News found 29% of voters ranked it the most important issue, as opposed to 9% when polled in 2009). Even so, politicians face a trade-off when deciding to enact eco-regulation: they vote in favour and gain popular support; or vote against and lose the support of powerful businesses whose livelihoods rely on the exploitation of natural resources.

For example, during his administration, President Trump left the Paris Agreement, a global treaty to combat the climate crisis, to create American jobs. This year, he also opened the Grand Canyon and Alaskan reserves for drilling with the same justifications despite the proven consequences for the environment. 

A final possible contributor to global warming is the rich. In a study by the University of Leeds, the richest 10% of people deplete about 20 times more energy than the bottom 10%. Their higher incomes contribute to lavish lifestyles which encourage more energy consumption, much of which comes from travel. Planes, vacations, and long car drives contribute to higher energy usage. 

If all this is true, then how did the average person become responsible for the deterioration of the environment?

This “eco-guilt” has been alive and well for years. Our society relies on fossil fuels to travel and work, normalizes eating red meat, and provides us with single-use plastics. It has become ingrained in our minds that living more sustainably is a personal choice, which then shifted blame from the structures that encourage choices that hurt the environment and the politicians who keep such systems in place to the individual who uses their products for survival. 

The arrival of Covid-19 has been a mixed blessing for the environment and the guilt that comes along with it. Due to strict travel policies and quarantine, carbon emissions temporarily fell by 17% and landmarks such as Venice’s canals saw the reemergence of fish. Consequently, the new phrase “We are the virus” came with it. Not only did this again shift blame to individuals, but completely ignored the lives of indigenous peoples who managed to adapt and utilize their environments without destroying them. 

Of course, although individuals shouldn’t be completely held accountable for the climate crisis, this isn’t a call to disregard the current recommendations to reduce your carbon footprint. Doing whatever you can, however small, to save the earth is a noble pursuit. Regardless, it’s important to not fall victim to “eco-guilt” but instead, work to hold the rich and powerful accountable to create a cleaner, greener future.


*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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