Before I go any further I want to set a few disclaimers for this article.
One: If you can reduce your consumption of single-use plastics, you should. It will help the planet, and specifically marine life, in the short-run.
Two: If you think going vegetarian and/or vegan helps the planet (it does, to an extent) and making that lifestyle choice brings you a sense of peace, continue to make that choice.
Lastly, and most importantly: Individual actions can make a difference in the world. We are not helpless and headed to certain doom. This article is not meant to convey that message.
Now that all of those have been laid out. let's talk a little about climate change.
The popular narrative right now is one of personal choice and responsibility. Use fewer straws, cut your meat and dairy consumption, buy an electric car and the Earth would be saved.
It is the average citizen who has pushed to the planet into uncharted warming and nearly unprecedented weather patterns, right?
Well, not quite. Actually, not really at all.
Yes, individual consumption choices have led to plastic in the oceans and greenhouse gas emissions in the air. But, a lack of government regulations and clean-up efforts have also caused these pollutants to not be cleaned properly.
Further, large corporations in virtually every industry, from pharmaceuticals to energy to defense contractors, have all released large quantities of pollutants into our air, water, and ground.
Governments (and especially conservative American governments) have let this pollution occur largely unchecked for decades. Then, those same governments often offer few programs for cleaning up and containing that pollution.
And then, in a stroke of genius political communication, those companies and governments shift the blame to the average person.
The average person, who shopped produce and meat without knowing how much agro-business was killing the environment because protocols and other information were labeled as "trade secrets" and sealed away from the public eye.
The average person, who likely doesn't understand the intricacies of defense contracts and global wars and how the production of weapons and running of bases can lead to environmental degradation.
The average person, who wants to believe their government genuinely does have their best interests in mind when rolling back regulations and stifling climate research in the name of saving money.
Hopefully, you see where I am going with this.
If you don't, let me sum it up: governments and the big industry corporations they are often monetarily linked to having done more to harm the planet than an average citizen could single-handedly contribute in years.
And, they have done it in ways largely unknown that are only now beginning to be understood as court cases are forcing the unsealing of documents and so-called "trade secrets".
But, to shirk responsibility and continue the profit-padding practices they have enjoyed for years at the expense of the planet, those same groups have shifted the blame.
They want us all to think climate change is solely our fault because it means they do not have to bend their practices. If we put all the responsibility on ourselves to clean the planet, they can continue to destroy it while applauding our efforts to fix it.
Again, I don't want to instill the idea that we are all doomed and nothing can be changed. Personal choices can and do affect real change.
My point is that we need to apply more pressure on the government and industry than we apply to ourselves. Take the energy you have focused on straws and sea turtles and do what you can to push some change on to companies.
Do your research. Stop buying products and supporting some of the worst polluters. Petition your officials. Vote them out when elections roll around.
Make that the personal responsibility we all need to have in the climate crisis.