On Last Week Tonight, Bill Nye stated simply, “The planet is on ****ing fire.”
And he’s right.
The UN’s most recent report has concluded that not only has the planet gotten warmer by 1C, there’s also a shockingly shrinking window for humans to reverse the effects of climate change. Report after report warns us of the impending fate of the planet, and, if nothing is done, rising sea levels will affect human security, environmental quality, and the capabilities of all living matter on earth.
The point is straightforward: something has got to change. But the question remains, who should be the one to do it?
The responsibility lies within three major players: the government, consumers, and companies/industries. Each of these parties has the ability to change the way we move forward through education, power, and impact.
Being aware of climate change and understanding its effects are crucial to addressing the issue. The problem is however, that though education materials are easily accessible to the masses, there’s still an unsettling amount of misinformation and doubt. (Most of which is coming from the government and oil industry.) Climate change deniers like President Trump, who has repeatedly refuted the reality of global warming, have avid supporters. Because of him and other officials who have made similar claims, there is persistent doubt in both climate scientists and the changing environment.
Consumers who look up to the president and other authoritative figures have been swayed to dismiss the truth of Earth’s status as a “hoax.” But government officials aren’t the only ones stoking these flames. Major companies also have a vested, financial interest in mainstream denial. Paul Krugman of The New York Times has said, “As far as I can tell, every one of the handful of well-known scientists who have expressed climate skepticism has received large sums of money from [oil] companies…”
In this area consumers are the least culpable. There’s simply too much disbelief for them to be a robust force for change. The government and industries have the education… but they refuse to act on it.
In their own ways, each party has a certain level of power to combat this problem, and they all must work in tandem with each other. Consumers can affect what types of products are sold to them if they continuously invest in cruelty-free, vegan, or other low impact products. It incentivizes industries to keep up with demand.
Companies have great influential power, as well as practical power. Back in 1953, a group of corporations came together to create Keep America Beautiful which, in essence, shifted the responsibility of littering from themselves to their customers. But today’s customers aren’t equipped to deal with the amount of trash we create. That’s where the government has to step in.
Nicolas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change wrote a guest post in The Guardian saying, “While it is clear that it is still technically feasible to limit warming to 1.5C, we will not succeed without strong political will and leadership.” He goes on to say, “Governments should recognize both the great peril we face from poor choices or hesitation, and the enormous opportunity on offer from the rapid transition to a clean and sustainable economy.”
So what kind of impact can these factions have on the planet? Consumers can make an impact to reduce their carbon footprint by limiting their vehicle usage, cutting water and electricity consumption, buying less, planting more trees, and, most importantly, recycling.
Recycling and composting prevented 87.2 million tons of material from being disposed of in 2013, up from 15 million tons in 1980.
While there is a lot we can do, even if every consumer followed these guidelines, it still wouldn’t be enough. Companies produce tons of trash each year, with most of it being “disposable” products like plastic bags/packaging/bottles and styrofoam containers that don’t actually biodegrade like they’re supposed to and rather end up in landfills or the ocean.
There are also many options for companies to choose in order to reduce their environmental impact. They could start recycling like Gillette did with their Razor Recycling Program, they could switch to recyclable packaging, they could repair already made products, and, most beneficial, they could limit carbon emissions. (Carbon dioxide makes up 63% of all global greenhouse gasses — which is what is actually warming the Earth.)
The government’s impact in funding infrastructure would make cities cleaner and more walker friendly. When we write to our council members about our concerns regarding climate change it forces the country to act.
At the end of the day it’s really all of our responsibilities to save the Earth. But the parties with the most power and influence need to lead the charge. A garden hose isn’t going to put out a forest fire, but hordes of them just might. There’s no reversing the damage that has already been done to this planet, but if we act immediately and drastically, it can be saved.
Johanie Martinez-Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author.