We fell for it. The climate change fight has been flooded with individual actions such as reducing our own carbon footprints. But who started the discussion about individual activism?
Actions such as recycling, reducing meat consumption, installing solar panels, driving an electric car, or biking to work certainly help reduce your carbon footprint, right? Wrong. The push for “conscious consumption” was a trap organized by the deceitful fossil fuel industry.
While individual action may encourage people to join the climate change fight, it is counterproductive and distracts the public from major, necessary policy changes.
“The focus on individual action is a fossil fuel industry strategy to shift blame,” said Dargan Frierson, associate professor of atmospheric sciences. “The notion of a carbon footprint, which doesn’t even make sense because everyone’s needs to be zero, was created by BP, so we can’t lose sight of the real culprits.”
Individualism in the climate change fight was created and is supported by companies who emit the most greenhouse gasses, because it frames climate change as an individually solvable problem that does not rely on corporate involvement. This is far from the truth.
The companies pushing for divided activism to reduce our carbon footprints never take action to reduce their own carbon emissions. According to 2018 data from the Carbon Disclosure Project and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, British Petroleum (BP) only invested 2.3% of its budget in renewable energy sources.
“We basically have to eliminate all emissions of fossil fuels to stop climate change,” said atmospheric sciences professor Abigail Swann. “These large emitters hold the largest levers to do that … We need such drastic change it will almost certainly need to involve some kind of government-imposed economic or regulatory structure to make it happen at a large enough scale.”
Investing only 2.3% into renewable energy is nothing when the goal is to eliminate all emissions of fossil fuels. Put simply, by encouraging individual activism, the fossil fuel industry has created effective propaganda that gives individuals a sense of control over the climate crisis, shifting our focus onto the crisis, while ignoring the perpetrators.
This especially speaks to the power of performative activism. By encouraging individuals to reduce their carbon footprint, the fossil fuel industry traps them in a performative cycle where they take personal sustainable actions, feel satisfied, and stop advocating for change.
This was the fossil fuel industry’s goal. When people focus on acting sustainable on an individual level, they’ll focus less on the actions of mass-polluters that require advocating for regulation through major policy change.
In contrast, many people argue on the doomers’ side of the climate crisis. This is the idea that the crisis is entirely out of our control, so it’s “too late” for us to do anything on an individual or corporate level. This is also a convenient way for the fossil fuel industry to avoid responsibility for their deceit and mass pollution.
While the focus should not be individual, we all still have a responsibility to advocate for change in policy and encourage regulation of the fossil fuel industry. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Press Release, there is still hope that we can reverse the effects of climate change, but we need to act now.
However, even when we team up to advocate for change, it appears that the fossil fuel industry finds a way to turn it down.
“The main barrier against climate action has always been the fossil fuel industry,” Frierson said. “Just recently in Washington, the Western States Petroleum Association spent over $ 30 million to get the climate action initiative I-1631 to fail, over $ 10 per vote cast in the election. They were successful. The initiative didn’t pass. “
There needs to be a shift in the rhetoric around the fight for climate change. It’s not about individual actions – it’s about advocating for the regulation of the fossil fuel industry. Their deception deserves more attention and awareness.
“It’s important to join up with others,” Frierson said. “At UW, Institutional Climate Action is a group that’s organizing for divestment and a fossil-free campus … Look to the climate justice movement and Indigenous activists for guidance. They’re the moral center of the movement and have the solutions that get to the root of the problems. ”
It seems like the best course of action is to listen to Indigenous activists and find a way to get involved in advocating for the regulation of mass-emitters. Does all of this mean taking personal sustainable actions is bad? Not at all.
“The individual actions themselves are not big enough to make a change,” Swann said. “But as individuals, we may become more invested in that change if we take individual action … It keeps people motivated to put pressure on governments, politicians, and companies to make the major structural changes needed.”
Taking personal sustainable actions can encourage those around you to participate more seriously in the climate change fight. So keep recycling and carpooling, but remember that the fight is against the fossil fuel industry and not just ourselves.
Reach writer Brielle Arnold at [email protected] Twitter: ribrielle_arnold
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