If you are not actively working on reducing how much meat you eat, you are part of the reason we will lose the fight against climate change.
If you are not thinking of ways to reduce how much disposable plastic you use, you are part of the reason we will lose the fight against climate change.
If you knowingly shop for fast fashion so you can have any and every outfit you could ever want, you are part of the reason we will lose the fight against climate change.
If you undermine or laugh at people who are seriously trying to change their habits, you are part of the reason we will lose the fight against climate change.
We are past the point where we can act like we have time. We are past the point where we can act like we won’t have to make sacrifices to save the planet. Our lifestyle is very unsustainable, and that’s something we need to face and work on dismantling if we want any chance moving forward.
It used to be that the discourse around climate change was entirely centered on personal responsibility. The environmentalism movement in ‘60s and ‘70s America was framed as the job of regular people to do their part. In this way, companies were able to offload the work and money to public infrastructure like curbside recycling pickup, despite the fact that they were the ones producing the soon-to-be trash in the first place.
More recently, there has been good criticism of this view. Many new-wave environmentalists see through this narrative and place blame on large corporations prioritizing profit over the planet. If you’ve ever seen a statistic like the famous “100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions,” that is part of this narrative. Also under fire is the U.S. military, one of the world’s biggest, most bloated polluters. In this way, the blame is placed on corporatization and overconsumption.
Now, this paradigm shift is a net positive, for sure. But it represents a failure in messaging: Yes, large companies are destroying our planet, but they are only able to because we let them. For a long time, companies have been able to take advantage of our stupid animal brain and coax us into easy living, particularly in America, where consumerism is king. Sugar and fats in our food, convenient single-use plastic and more have pushed us into comfort and excess. However, by going on about how these companies need to change, we fail to realize how we must force them to change.
Pinning blame on overconsumption and corporatization obfuscates the way we move forward with this, sometimes to dangerous effect. I have seen in comment threads about climate change how racists run co-opt this messaging. They say, “Oh, well China and India are also the problem, because they are the ones producing emissions,” completely ignoring where the goods produced there are going. By not making clear that it is our responsibility to reduce consumption in clear, actionable ways, we stall the environmental movement and give space for misinterpretation.
There are some ways we can’t reduce our consumption, not yet. For example, public transportation can be very hard to come by in some places, and so many may need to drive a car in order to work and live. But I’m sick of hearing people moan about how they can’t give up meat because of lies like “vegetarianism is expensive.” I’m sick of seeing people buy so much without any guilt or introspection. I’m sick of people acting like it isn’t their personal responsibility to make an effort to stop overconsumption.
I know it’s hard. I’m not perfect myself, not even close. It’s really difficult to reprogram yourself from a culture that is so hell-bent on plastic and waste. But we have to try. We have to keep trying the best we can, we have to change our habits and we have to get other people to change theirs. A better world — a saved world — is possible, but only if we all make a conscious effort to get there. You don’t need to commit yourself to asceticism or the Amish lifestyle, but you should take a deep look on how you can work to make your life better and less wasteful. Actively.
So put up or shut up. Try to reduce (not eliminate, even) how much meat you eat. Try to reuse and repurpose old clothes. Try to be happy with the stuff you have rather than the stuff you don’t. Just do something! Advocacy and finger-pointing is useless without follow-through. And right now, it’s clear that companies aren’t going to follow through by themselves. So it’s up to us.
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Peter Fenteany is the associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.