USA corporations need to face up to their problematic relationship with the environment

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Environmental responsibility should be the buzzword of 2020. Great steps by individuals have been made to live a more conscious lifestyle, yet the government and big corporations are still lagging way behind in spite of the moral duty they have to operate in a way that safeguards the environment. 

To be clear, I’m not slating the individual here. Although progress has been sluggish in America compared to the UK, with a law charging $0.10 per single-use plastic checkout bag only made effective on Aug. 1, 2019 in Connecticut, something that was implemented across the UK on Oct. 5, 2015. Ultimately, every individual who is doing their part for the environment can be applauded, whether that be recycling, walking instead of taking the car or eating meat less frequently. 

Where big changes need to be made are within corporations, who seem to be unwilling to accommodate, and crucially, the governments who have the power to enforce policies minimising companies’ environmental damages. The Guardian Newspaper compiled data that revealed the 20 fossil fuels are responsible for 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1965. Power to make instrumental change really is in the hands of the few. 

The most recent UK general election held in December 2019, for the next prime minister, saw a greater priority given to environmental issues than ever seen before. The Conservative party, with its leader Boris Johnson, outlined a pledge for £1bn for new electric vehicle charging stations, £800m for carbon capture and storage, as well as support for new nuclear and hydrogen power. The Labour party went a step further, releasing a highly ambitious manifesto that included £250bn to be set towards a Green Transformation Fund, as well as a windfall tax on oil companies to raise funds to facilitate the switch to a greener economy.  

The new attention and priority given to the environment in the current political landscape shows how it is rising up the ranks of importance becoming a central and pressing issue, a promising sign for the future. 

Whilst, in the U.S., the Trump administration has had an unprecedented negative impact on the environment, with a vast roll-back of 95 environmental rules that aimed to curb climate change. The policy changes target rules viewed as hindering the fossil industries. One of the latest changes, on Sept. 12, 2019, redefined which waterways are protected by the federal Clean Water Act, causing 51% of wetlands and 18% of streams across the U.S. to lose their federal protections.  

The decisions made by Trump today will likely have devastating environmental consequences for decades to come. Crucially, his laissez-faire attitude towards the environment has simply inspired a general lack of urgency among companies with regards to environmental action.  

There is an astounding lack of transparency over their environmental policies, polluting the information landscape and misrepresenting the true cost of their products. Companies need to disclose their environmental impact, take responsibility for the damage they are inflicting on the planet and then act to minimise their unsustainable resource use.  

The RE100 initiative provides encouraging business news as it brings together influential businesses, such as Apple, Nestle and Microsoft, committed to sourcing 100% renewable energy in the shortest possible timeline (by 2050 at the latest). This is only the beginning, and whether the initiative culminates in any actionable change is yet to be seen. 

The U.S. government needs to take more climate accountability. There needs to be a more engaged, environmentally conscious and forward-thinking dialogue between government policymakers and big corporations. They need to open up their eyes to the reality of the situation and the large stake they hold in the future of the planet. 


Camélia Lequeux is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at camelia.lequeux@uconn.edu.

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