Great ideas but misdirected energy
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
Far too much of the energy inside the climate change movement is directed at the individual consumer as opposed to the mega corporations that generate the vast majority of CO2 and waste.
Most people want to do the right thing for the environment and help slow—if not avert—the ravages of climate change. Most people are eager to do whatever it takes to make sure that our planet can last but one day more before succumbing to the fiery Armageddon predicted by some scientists. Some of these actions really are for the better; bringing awareness to the mass of single-use plastics deposited in the ocean which are unable to decompose while they slowly kill off and poison the wildlife is a good thing. Unfortunately, not all the methods attempted and championed are adequate—or even well directed in terms of their real outcome. Far too much of what we advocate people do is inconsequential in the grand scheme when the role of polluters and corporate world destroyers is examined. Yet we still advocate these actions. Why? Maybe just to tell ourselves that we are doing our part and that we are bettering the world with our one small step and action.
The unfortunate best-and-worse example of this is the rejection of single-use plastic straws. In early 2011, a nine-year-old boy named Milo Cress became concerned about the number of plastic straws that were being thrown out on a day-to-day basis. After some research he realized that he could not find any reliable data on how many straws were being used and produced so he began contacting manufacturers of plastic straws—and settled on an estimate of 500 million a day. His idea was compelling, but his estimate was not scientifically astute. However, when a heart-wrenching video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose surfaced, then Milo’s hope for a straw free world began to gain traction.
Ten years after the start of Cress’ campaign it appears that the abolishment of straws (though a necessary portion) cannot match the entirety of the problem. The most jarring example of this may be the underwater inferno caused by Shell gas company in the middle of July. The sight of the glowing fireball in the middle of the ocean prompted some to compare it to a portal to hell yet somehow the public pressure on Shell was seemingly non-existent at any point and gone before the end of the day. The campaign to end the use of plastic straws lasted longer and was far more intense than the response to that horrific debacle. And this is one of the main problems with the climate change movement: far too much of the energy inside of it is directed at the individual consumer as opposed to the mega corporations that generate the vast majority of CO2 and waste. At any given time, there is likely more scorn heaped upon a teenager with a truck than there is scorn upon the Shell execs that dumped hundreds of tons of cancerous waste in Ecuador.
And the situation is not much better when one focuses on the fight between single-use plastic bags vs reusable plastic bags. A study reported in AsiaOne showed that you must use a reusable bag at least 104 times just to combat the CO2 emitted in its production. For better or for worse most grocery stores have banned the single use bag and yet next to nothing has been said about the amount of farmland and water used to grow corn made into every food stuff but with next to no nutritional value.
At times it seems as if people are horribly upset about the wrong things, and almost as if the “personal responsibility” metric has been used to brainwash people away from corporate criticism. Certainly, much needs to be done about the looming climate crises, but we may need to best direct our energies higher up in society.