Responsibility For Climate Change Shouldn't Fall On Individuals Alone

Seriously reducing carbon emissions lies in the hands of global corporations

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental panel on climate change has released yet another bleak message into a world that already seems to be on the verge of its apocalypse.

We live in times where each newspaper headline causes us to question if things really could get any worse, and each morning we are met with the answer in black and white that yes, it really could. For if we aren’t electing men who enjoy a good roll in fake tan, tweet like three-year-olds and think women ought to be “grabbed by the pussy”, we’re depleting our ozone layer at a rate that is sure to increase extreme weather events, destroy our ecosystems and cause humanitarian crises.

The revelation that we have not done enough to stop climate change is hardly a revelation at all. Though I use the term ‘we’ here loosely, for it is undeniable that individuals have made far more of an effort to tackle climate change than the multinational companies who are ironically far more responsible for it. For hidden beneath the endless cries to ditch our cars for public transport, swap our meat for vegetables, and take our televisions off stand by, lies the reality that it is just 100 of our multinational corporations that are responsible for a staggering 71 per cent of our global emissions. This shocking statistic reveals that in reality we as individuals are a far smaller part of the problem than we have been lead to believe.

Companies have hidden their guilt like a dirty little secret and let us buy in to the bizarre concept that changes in our homes and shopping trolleys just might be enough to save the planet. In the hope that we may all be distracted and occupied with ambitions to ‘do our bit’, multinational corporations have attempted to keep their actions under the radar and out of the press, constantly pointing our focus towards paper straws and bags for life.

It is probably a good time to note that this article is by no way an attempt to ridicule or belittle the actions of individuals in the fight against climate change. Indeed, paper straws, reusable plastics, vegetarian diets and low energy light bulbs are all positive actions that we can take and that we should feel good about doing. The problem instead is that we have been misled about the potential effectiveness of these actions and as a result the onus for change has been shared so disproportionately amongst individuals and corporations.

Ironically, more pressure for action has been placed on those whose actions arguably matter the least, whilst those whose actions cause the most damage seemed to have escaped unharmed. For example, despite all the recent pressure to stop eating meat and adopt a vegetarian diet, a recent study has revealed that even if all Americans adopted meatless Mondays our greenhouse gas emissions would only be reduced by a mere 0.5%. So much fuss and noise surrounding a solution that clearly, with such a limited impact, is not a solution can only be put down as a distraction technique and attempt to shy away from responsibility.

Multinational corporations and governments in power would rather us see fault in our own individual choices than the fuels they choose to invest in, fully aware that if pressure for change was to mount then profits would surely fall.

So despite all the constant tips and tricks on how we can make our homes more eco-friendly the reality is that the potential to seriously reduce carbon emissions lies only in the hands of global corporations and fossil fuel producers. Indeed, until the likes of Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron can love the planet more than they love their pockets, we risk the world becoming an even scarier place. But there is of course still hope. The reliance on money from investors does bring with it a pressure to change and companies such as Facebook, Google and IKEA have already committed to renewable power under the RE100 Initiative.

Indeed our power now lies not in turning off lights and filling freezers with quorn, but in influencing those who have for too long shied away from their potential to have an impact.