Illustration by Hannah Robinson
Over the past year or so, I have noticed a huge rise in individual interest in the climate crisis. This surge in public interest has indubitably been sparked by efforts from activists such as Greta Thunberg, who started the school strike for climate movement. I wonder (and hope) that one day, the efforts of Greta and other youth activists will be recognised as a crucial turning point in our planet’s history.
Today I want to address the question of responsibility with regards to the climate crisis. As this movement has been built and established by individuals, it seems like the political discourse that has been fed by both governments and media outlets across the world, has focused on consumers taking individual responsibility and action in the face of this climate crisis.
For too long now, my twitter timelines and Instagram stories have been filled with adverts and posts about plastic straws. The irony of shouting of “save the turtles” by not using plastic straws, whilst continuing to use single-use plastics in almost all other aspects of life has been lost on so many. Cutting out plastic straws won’t cut it. Reducing plastic waste in our oceans is important, but in order to save the planet we need fundamental changes to our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels.
By looking at reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the UN body on climate change, the data on GHG emissions is clear. 24% of GHG emissions are produced by agriculture and forestry, and 14% of GHG emissions come from transportation. These are the economic sectors where individuals can have the biggest impact.
I am aware that the debate around veganism is highly controversial. Whilst cutting out animal produce is a sure-fire way for an individual to reduce their carbon footprint, I have two sticking points on this issue. Firstly, the privilege that is attached to veganism must be recognised; the ability to choose what to eat is huge and must be recognised as a privilege. Secondly it must be noted the ‘greenness’ of vegan alternatives such as soya, and soya based proteins like tofu and Quorn, is somewhat falsified; these products also produce a lot of GHG emissions. Additionally, they are flown long distances before landing on our plates: the GHG emissions of this must also be considered.
Travel both in a personal capacity and in the air-miles of the food we consume is also a change that individuals can make. However, when the super-rich fly around the world on private jets every day, can this really have any impact? If consumer change was the answer to the climate crisis then all individuals (especially the super-rich) would have to make massive changes to their consumption patterns. As the drivers of consumption, corporations have a massive responsibility for the climate crisis, and they are currently failing to take meaningful action.
The McDonalds paper straw scandal suggests that corporate changes are often a ploy of brand image. Making these small-scale changes are hugely inadequate; as the IPCC points out, 21% of GHG emissions comes from industry. By making changes to their methods of production, corporations can take on their responsibility in lowering GHG emissions and saving our planet. Similarly, governments and states across the developed world also share a considerable amount of responsibility for the climate crisis, and they too continue to fail to substantiate any of their promises of effort.
The biggest proportion of GHG emissions comes from electricity and heat production (25%). We need to formulate a new sustainable model of development and stop burning fossil fuels. By switching to renewables, we can reduce emissions and keep our planet cleaner. Governments need to work together with international organisations in order to make the changes we need.
Adhering to the Paris agreement, which limits global rise in temperature to 2ºC, is the first step in doing so. This is a global issue that needs a global response. Corporations and governments must take responsibility and make the vital changes that we need in order to save our planet. Because, as Greta has said, “homo sapiens have not yet failed. Yes, we are failing, but there is still time to turn everything around. We can still fix this.”