Updated: Oct 2, 2020
A rapid internet hunt suggests a flood of advice on how individuals can contribute towards climate change; take public transport instead of the car or take the train rather than fly, eat less meat and more vegetables and grains, turn off the light when leaving a room or the water when shampooing. The insinuation here is that the incentive for addressing climate change is on individual consumers. On the face of it, it may seem like we all contribute to global warming through the snowballing effect of our activities. By shifting consumption patterns on a hefty scale, we MIGHT be able to impact companies to adjust their production patterns to more organic methods.
Global warming complications cannot be assigned purely to the individuals as it stops people from recognizing the magnitude of political change that needs to occur. Instead of seeing the bigger picture, people are deflected by the fine prints of their grocery lists. The belief that this massive crisis could have been fixed if all of us modified our consumptive patterns is not only absurd; it’s risky. It turns ecology into a personal choice defined as sin or virtue, condemning those who don’t or can’t support these morals. We cannot blame our personal choices for the oil and gas industry’s felonies, that blame tiles the road to indifference, which can really seal our doom.
Our world generally associates environmentalism with individual consumerism, and we are brainwashed into believing that in order to be good citizens, we must convert completely to solar energy, ride an up-cycled bike everywhere, stop flying, eat vegan etc. We must live a zero-waste lifestyle and stop using the technologies that are designed for our convenience. We are made to attend seminars where people share their way of recycling and reusing products making us feel like we are the ones to be blamed for this global effect. While the public is kept busy in challenging each other’s transparency, the government and industries fly off the hook completely. If we want to work in society, we have no option but to operate in that system and to blame ourselves for that is to disgrace ourselves for our very existence.
As Yessenia Funes, a journalist at Earther, wrote, “I refuse to believe people should be shamed for living in the world we’ve built.”
Governments have the power to pass legislation which could regulate productions to remain within sustainable emanation limits and adhere to environmentally friendly standards by also extending to more radical large-scale initiatives to reduce consumption, decarbonize economies and move beyond materialism as the basis for our well-being. More could be done by rich countries and powerful industries to sustain and enable poorer countries to ease and adjust to climate change. Not to say that individuals cannot do what they can to change their behavior where possible. Every little involvement by people helps but failing to do so should not be considered morally blameworthy.
I personally embark on this journey of being greener and more organic for the planet; abstaining from plastic and using more plants. It is true that all these personal choices can make us healthier and much happier but, in a culture, where environmentally harmful goods are often indifferent from environmentally friendly or fair products, it’s naive to believe that asking the individual to save the world through consumer choice will be effective. Neither is it always the ethical thing to do; is it right to demand from a busy mom to stop using plastic for the safety of her kids when that is all she can see around. What about all the struggling people who do not have access to the reusable items or who cannot afford to live a hundred percent organic life. If I have the option of a paper bag to a plastic one, I would take it but instead of banning the plastics, the government expects me to stop using it, when it is the only thing available for me. For me its like asking people to stop enjoying the artificial rains in hot areas because cloud seeding is hazardous.
The more we focus on individual action and neglect universal change we tend to bury the problem under the carpet. We need to expand our description of personal behavior beyond what we buy or consume. We can start by replacing plastic bags with paper, but our efforts cannot stop there. The institutions or our workplaces need to be investigated for their environment policies and motivated through our words or actions. We can take our personal achievement and amplify it into something bigger than just what kind of bags we use for our groceries. Our daily efforts help to unite us in fighting a common cause that goes beyond our shopping lists.
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