Is it possible to be environmentally conscious in 2020?

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Climate change is a crisis caused by a small number of people that are too preoccupied with wealth and their profits to realise that money means absolutely nothing in an uninhabitable world.

We are all well aware of the global climate crisis at this point, as it has been extensively covered in every form of media one could imagine. It has almost become so normalised that we have pushed our planet beyond its limits that it has lost its shock-factor.

Fear not, this is not another article detailing a thousand tiny changes you can implement in your life to stop global warming as ‘every little counts.’ It’s true, in a sense, that we should all be more cautious about the effects we are putting out into the world in our day-to-day lives. However, this is not nearly as simple as these campaigns make it out to be.

The great straw debate is what immediately comes to mind – are the turtles really worth soggy milkshake straws? (the answer there is – yes). However, this then fell into an ableist controversy due to many disabled people requiring a straw. Fast fashion is one of the largest polluters of today, however, to buy from sustainable brands your budget must at least triple (think of how much it costs to buy a t-shirt from Primark) – making it inaccessible for many who do not have the means.

One unfortunate truth is that, in the monopoly of the capitalist societies in which we exist, it is almost impossible to be truly sustainable. Consumer activism is complex and therefore the phrase: ‘there is no ethical consumption under late capitalism,’ is popular online. Not only are the ‘sustainable’ labels on clothes and other products often highly misleading and even untrue (you have only to watch the Patriot Act video on Fast Fashion to see how) but these lines are often owned by a larger brand. This means that we end up playing into the marketing strategies that these companies put in place to cater to 100% of the market as the money all goes to the same place.

Not only this but the sustainable, more ethically sourced brands are more expensive, meaning they also pry more money out of you. They use your morality and your awareness of these issues to exploit you further. So while it is practically impossible to boycott a single brand, it is also worth noting that boycotts often have a large effect on innocent employees, while the CEO’s get away unscathed, further complicating the moral dilemma of acting against climate change.

While contributing to ethically questionable companies at some point (or daily for most) is an inescapable facet of our society today, if you have the means then, of course, buying the more ‘ethical’ brands will help in terms of showing these companies what is most valued by their target market. Despite this, there shouldn’t be any guilt present if you are not capable of doing so. These are multi-billion pound companies who pollute the earth themselves. Sustainable alternatives could easily be made accessible to everyone but due to there being little profit in making that change, it is unlikely to happen. We should direct our anger to those at the top of the food chain and not at less fortunate individuals who genuinely struggle to find the necessary means to live a fully environmentally conscious life.

This brings me to the question, why is the blame for climate change always placed on the individual? Governments spend an excessive amount of money on climate campaigns that only serve to guilt people who are less fortunate for ‘killing’ our planet when the statistics say something entirely different. According to Bloomberg, plastic straws account for 0.03% of ocean pollution, while fishing nets account for 46%. Concentrating on this, rather than the fact that only 100 companies and their CEO’s can be attributed to 71% of global emissions, seems like a purposeful distraction or redirection of public attention. There is no question of where the blame should be placed in this situation.

So no, climate change is not a battle of the many, but a crisis caused by a small number of people that are too preoccupied with wealth and their profits to realise that money means absolutely nothing in an uninhabitable world.

The environment is also something largely dependent on money. Since those in control of most of the money in the world happen to be billionaires, this is hardly a hopeful statement. The UN estimates that it would cost $300 billion to halt the effects of climate change before it’s too late. This is an insanely large amount of money but to put it into perspective, only 26 of the world’s richest control $1.4 trillion when their wealth is combined. We indeed have to keep in mind that there doesn’t exist some magical pot in which they can easily put this money and all our problems are solved – the money would have to be carefully invested, however, it is hardly unattainable.

This leads us on to the news of Jeff Bezos and his promise to invest $10 billion into a company tasked with combating climate change. It seems like he has realised that he can’t be the richest man on earth without a planet to live on. Forgive the underlying cynicism, as this is a man who has been consistent with his money hoarding: from paying Amazon workers a barely liveable wage in awful conditions to donating an overwhelming 0.1% of his 2018 income to charity. This is the equivalent of someone on a £20,000 wage giving one £20 note to charity in a whole year. Despite this, I have to grudgingly admit that this is what his critics have been asking him to do. This is an example of how we should stop allowing these corporations to shift the blame from themselves to the consumer, and how forcing responsibility on those with extensive resources can bring about real change, incomparable to the sins of a plastic straw.

Basically, yes we should do whatever we possibly can to help the environment but we need to abandon this guilt culture around it under the recognition that people deserve to be able to buy clothes and food with the money they have. Lets put pressure on the people who cause and propagate these issues and prevent solutions from becoming accessible to everyone. Stop getting angry at poor people for getting by on the money that they have and focus that anger on those rich enough to make a change, the CEO’s that cause the issues and any governments not doing their part to combat it.

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