A Call for Personal Responsibility in the Climate Crisis
2019 was filled with climate change discourse and action all around the world. Millions partook in climate action through rallies, lobbying, online activism, and community organizing. People were finally talking about something that scientists had been desperately warning them about for years. In September, over 100,000 people marched together at the Vancouver climate strike. That strike represented the many ways in which the climate movement fails today.
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg received the bulk of the attention—starry-eyed supporters were quick to bolster her status, while shying away from strategizing about climate change solutions. The rally, though well-intentioned, missed a critical opportunity to educate the thousands of participants on ways to reduce their own footprint through simple, sustainable actions. The climate speeches focused more on the individual impacts of climate change. One speech came from a young woman who expressed the desire to have children, but felt internally conflicted between her own desire, and the effects it would have on an already constrained planet. Other speakers were quick to blame politicians or faceless companies for their villainous roles in destroying the planet, while failing to address the role individuals have in propping up these companies.
Much like the rally, the amorphous climate change movement continues to see a lot evasion of responsibility. People are eager to present themselves as environmentalists, but are reluctant to make the necessary sacrifices that are required to reduce their own emissions.
We are all Responsible
There is a general expectation that corporations and governments are expected to do the legwork of reducing carbon emissions, exonerating the individual of responsibility. We know that not one company or one person is singularly responsible for climate change; we know that climate change is the sum of our parts, the sum of each person’s actions, yet the entire movement has been focused solely on blaming the nameless, faceless corporation; the egotistical politician; the wasteful neighbour; anyone but ourselves. It’s NIMBYism on a planetary scale.
People are naturally drawn to stories of individual struggle, resilience, and hardship. But climate change doesn’t draw people in because it is not one individual story, it is the collection of stories that affect each person differently. Reports of deadly floods in Pakistan, the mass dying off of insects and bees, unprecedented species extinction, the mass internal displacement of people—these are events that happen more frequently, and will affect more people.
Simple Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
While unglamorous, the most effective way to take action is through the way we consume. It may seem discouraging, but there are countless ways that we, as consumers, can take back power.
Below are just a few things we can do to resist consumer culture, support sustainability, and reduce our carbon footprint:
- Eliminate fast fashion: Fast fashion produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply. As a consumer, there are many ways you can purchase clothing without supporting this wasteful industry. You can instead shop at second hand clothing stores or consignment shops, rent clothes you’ll only wear once, or swap clothing with others through friends and community groups. You can also purchase higher quality clothing that lasts longer so you don’t have to toss your garments after just one season and repeat the buying cycle. As well, before donating or trashing your damaged garment, you can try your hand at repairing it yourself and redesigning it to make it last. Wildlife Thrift Shop is one of many local thrift stores that provide quality, gently used clothing while also giving back to other charities.
- Reduce single-use plastics: Single-use plastics can take up to a thousand years to decompose. It’s estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastic pollutes our oceans, destroys natural habitats, kills animals, and eventually makes its way back into the food chain to poison us. A few simple things you can do to reduce your plastic use include: opting for reusable grocery bags over plastic bags; purchasing more of your food in bulk bins or package-free stores; using reusable bottles; avoiding unnecessary food packaging (local grocer Nada sells food with zero packaging), and eating more homecooked meals.
- Commute sustainably: In Metro Vancouver, between 2006 and 2016, there has been a 21% increase in people traveling to work in a sustainable fashion such as walking, biking, or taking public transit. It’s clear that more people are turning to sustainable modes of transportation. Opting for a more sustainable mode of commuting is the easiest way to reduce your emissions, stay active, alleviate road congestion—and it’s a great excuse to spend more time outdoors.
- Repair it, don’t buy it: In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of repair shops that fix or refurbish your appliances, electronics, garments, furniture, you name it. While the easiest and tempting option is to immediately replace your broken household item, it unnecessarily adds to the enormous pile of waste that is already added to landfills. Repairing your items will reduce your waste, teach you how to fix something yourself, save money, and instill more awareness into the products you consume and use. The Web is littered with video tutorials, articles, and community forums that show you how to fix everything from your torn garment to your broken smartphone screen. From online tutorials to brick-and-mortar shops, it’s never been more accessible to refurbish and reuse.
- Eat more plant-based foods: Countless studies (2010 UNESCO study, 2019 Science magazine study, 2018 Nature study, to name a few) cite the role that animal agriculture has in increasing carbon emissions. Today, animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, outpacing even oil industries. Fortunately, the plant-based movement is growing, and companies are responding to the increase in demand. According to investment firm UBS, the plant-based protein market is expected to increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to a staggering $85 billion in 2030. Swapping out a meat-centred meal for a plant-based one is a healthier, more ethical, and less wasteful way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Rebellion through Consumption
We can’t afford to depend on companies and governments to heed our warnings. Trudeau approved the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, promising taxpayers will foot the bill, a bill that recently jumped from $7.4 billion to $12.6 billion. The City of Vancouver has been dragging its feet banning single-use plastics. Oil and gas companies have started investing in renewable energy, but they won’t make the leap from fossil fuels because it’s not yet profitable. The list goes on.
While the climate movement is not inherently incompatible with taking personal action, it is still necessary to remind ourselves that the fight doesn’t start and end with walking across a bridge. It is in our daily actions, that, when combined with other individual actions, will directly make an impact on the corporations and governments that rule over us. The sixth mass extinction is well underway, we need to adapt and engage in more practical forms of resistance that will slow its progression. It’s not about fighting against consumption, it’s about reframing the way in which we consume within the parameters of a capitalist society.
Ceballos, G., Ehrlich, P. R., & Dirzo, R. (2017). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
City of Vancouver. (2017). Walking + Cycling in Vancouver 2017 Report Card. Retrieved from City of Vancouver: https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/cycling-report-card-2017.pdf
McFall-Johnsen, M. (2019, October 21). The fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined. Here are the biggest ways it impacts the planet. Retrieved from Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10
Mekonnen, M., & Hoekstra, A. (2010). The Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint of Farm Animals and Animal Products.Delft: UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education.
Miljure, B. (2019, September 27). Vancouver climate strike turnout exceeds expectations, policy say 100k attended .Retrieved from CTV news: https://bc.ctvnews.ca/vancouver-climate-strike-turnout-exceeds-expectations-police-say-100k-attended-1.4614770
Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2019). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science.
Press, J., & Healing, D. (2020, February 7). Cost to build Trans Mountain pipeline jumps 70% to $12.6 billion. Retrieved from Financial Post: https://business.financialpost.com/commodities/energy/trans-mountain-cost-jumps-to-12-6-billion
Siegner, C. (2019, July 22). Plant-based meat market forecast to reach $85B by 2030, report says. Retrieved from Food Dive: https://www.fooddive.com/news/plant-based-meat-market-forecast-to-reach-85b-by-2030-report-says/559170/
Springman, M., Clark, M., Mason-D’Croz, D., Wiebe, K., Bodirsky, L. B., Lassaletta, L., . . . Zura. (2018). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature, 519-525.
Whiting, K. (2018, November 02). This is how long everyday plastic items last in the ocean. Retrieved from World Economic Forum : https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/chart-of-the-day-this-is-how-long-everyday-plastic-items-last-in-the-ocean/