Illustration by Megan Alcaraz
At this point, everyone is pretty much aware of climate change regardless of whether or not they “believe it” (which, given the state our world is in, it’s pretty hard not to). Last year, the IPCC reported that in order to keep global temperature increases below 1.5 degrees celsius, worldwide emissions would have to be cut 45% by 2030. However, it has recently been revealed that making significant changes in the next 18 months is vital to “keep climate change to survivable levels and restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival,” the BBC reports. The IPCC has also stated that the global emissions of carbon dioxide have to peak by 2020 in order to keep the global temperature below 1.5 degrees celsius. Essentially, this means that if the world doesn’t do a complete turnaround in the next few months, our doom is pretty much inevitable.
Human exploitation of the environment is nothing short of despicable, and we are often told each and every one of us have a role in stopping climate change. But how effective are our choices, and how easy is it to truly live sustainably while supporting the environment?
In 2017, the Climate Accountability Institute reported that a whopping 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to only 100 companies. Many of these companies are among the wealthiest in the world, as they are providers of fossil fuels, which is essentially liquid gold for today’s constant and high energy consumption.
From this perspective, our personal-scale attempts at saving the planet may seem entirely futile. It can feel like there’s no point to constantly turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth or hitting the lightswitch as you leave a room. However, it’s important to remember that we are the consumers of these products, especially living in a first-world country where most people have access to amenities such as electricity and running water. The impact of an individual is very small, given that you’re really only one person among more than 7.5 billion others. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have an impact at all. An average household in the US can reduce their footprint from around 24,000 pounds of CO2 per year, according to co-founder and co-director of the Climate Accountability Institute, Richard Heede. Turning off lights, taking shorter showers, or air-drying your clothes are free ways of reducing your carbon footprint by hundreds of pounds every year.
Of course, while contributing to the movement is important, we shouldn’t let the guilt of climate change fall on the individual; but rather the corporate giants that grow rich by exploiting and destroying the environment in order to obtain its natural materials in search of a quick profit. The long-term is overlooked, and always has been. Consequences are overlooked when money is involved. Changes in policy prove to be important. Heede argues that a tax on carbon, in particular, “is an important step in making sure we pay the cost of climate change through our use of fossil fuels.”
Our generation is likely to suffer from decisions that, ultimately, are out of our hands, and it’s frightening to know that the decisions that people much older than us are making are deciding our future (and possibly our lack of one). One can feel helpless in this situation. We need to, nonetheless, question our own impact on the environment, and how much we really can do on an individual scale. Supporting movements to promote cleaner energy and lessen the power these massive corporations hold over both us and our precious planet are one step of the way towards saving the world from impending disaster- which, as scary as it sounds, is no longer hyperbole.