Venice High School students Evelyn Lamond, 15, left, and Chaya Forman, 15, rally in a climate change protest in Pershing Square in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Education

Demystifying individual action: Part hoax, part plan

It’s time to up the fight against climate change.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/bookpapaya/" target="_self">Maya Henry</a>

Maya Henry

April 1, 2022
April 22 is Earth Day, usually filled with deep teals, kelly greens and powder blues. Facts about climate change and discussion on environmental racism are given a front row next to a less welcome conversation: relentless rhetoric about how if everyone were to use one less sheet of paper a week, we could make a real dent in climate change. Such pushing of individual action steals a place at the table from the discussion of how multi-billion dollar corporations are ruining the environment–and getting away with it flawlessly.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have a personal responsibility to minimize our carbon footprint: we do. As citizens of this planet, I believe it is our responsibility to do our best to save the planet that our existence has played a role in destroying. But, the idea that all the responsibility for saving the planet falls onto the everyday person’s diet and shopping habits isn’t just improbable, it excuses multi-billion-dollar corporations from assuming any responsibility for their actions. 

The exaggerated impact of individual action is heavily perpetuated by corporations who, by pushing guilt onto consumers, are able to pretend that they care about the environment–as they continue to wreck it. This facade of being eco-conscious is a form of greenwashing, a process in which “expressions of environmentalist concerns [are used] as a cover for products, policies, or activities.

One of the companies most notorious for greenwashing is Coca-Cola, whose total net worth including all of its smaller companies is estimated at just over $265 billion. It should be noted that since 1984, Coca-Cola has donated a measly $900 million to various organizations, with no accessible proof of donation to any climate change focused organization.

Yet, the lack of action hasn’t stopped Coca-Cola from putting up a front as an environmentalist company that cares about humanity. In early 2022, Innocent Company, a subsidiary of the Coca-Cola brand, ran a series of ads in the UK featuring cartoon characters singing about the joys of reducing, reusing and recycling, and how buying single-use plastic smoothie bottles would help the planet.

Not only was the premise of the ads misleading in its equivalence of single-use plastics and saving the environment, but it was completely hypocritical when Innocent and Coca-Cola have done little to help the environmental damage they’ve caused. 

Another company at fault for green-washing?

Massive retailer H&M — the second-largest retailer in the world.

Operating in 74 countries and hosting numerous human rights violations, H&M has launched its sustainability campaign internationally in recent years. Its “eco-friendly” products are designated with green tags that say “H&M Conscious,” and are advertised as being better for the environment and landfills.

Yet, a report from the Changing Markets Foundation found that a mammoth 96% of H&M’s claims of being environmentally friendly didn’t hold up to their promises. And, so, H&M’s scheme of sustainability was exposed to be exactly that: a scheme.

And, other companies, who have in no way shape or form ever made a commitment to sustainability, still try to urge their consumers to make a difference for the planet. Take Shell, the gas company responsible for up to 2% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. Despite being one of the world’s most nefarious polluters, Shell tweeted to its followers in November 2020, asking them to vote on what they would be doing to cut down on emissions. Twitter users were asked to choose between “renewable electricity, “stop flying,” “buy electric car,” and “offset emissions.” 

That one tweet exposes an integral issue that is representative of much of the capitalistic country we live in: why is it that Shell, a multinational, multi-billion-dollar corporation that is one of the worst polluters in history, can guilt trip its consumers into thinking about their carbon footprint when Shell is one of the largest reasons anyone needs to be cognizant of their carbon footprint in the first place?

Climate change is a crisis. There is no denying that we need all hands on deck to avert the horrific direction that we’re currently headed towards, and cutting out meat or using public transportation are important steps.

The solution to climate change involves everyone, but in undeniably skewed proportions: the moment we equivocate somebody using a plastic bag with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 emitting 400 tons of carbon dioxide per joy-ride launch, blame is placed on the population that is the least at fault. We can not depend on nor expect the everyday person to solve the consequences of tycoons’ actions. 

Instead, the job comes down to policy regulating the emissions of corporations. For instance, the Green New Deal would wean the U.S. off of carbon-emitting processes on a federal level, and various proposed laws would cap the emissions of companies like Amazon and Shell and implement federal repercussions.  

It’s time to up the fight against climate change. Similarly, it’s long past time to stop pinning the blame of centuries of greed and capitalism on the actions of individuals who are a drop, not a wave, in the world’s toxic emissions.

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