Saving the earth seems like a huge undertaking, and with the constant bombardment of information and implied responsibility from each of us consumers, many people prefer to turn away and feign ignorance than take on the moral weight associated with being entirely for the earth. While saving the planet is, indeed, the most noble and pressing issue of our time, and one that will need constant cooperation from all parties involved, it doesn’t have to be as scary as it may seem.
The greatest environmental threats are massive corporations, specifically oil and fuel companies. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of all of global emissions, according to the Carbon Majors Report, with ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron taking top spots on the list. In the scope of plastic production and plastic waste, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestle remain top polluters internationally. All of these companies have an excess of funds that could and should be used to help shrink their environmental impact, and they have all claimed that they do intend to work to make strides, but the lack of urgency in their action is damning. In each of these instances, the only reason that they continue doing things the same way is because of the bottom line, the key motivator in capitalism. These companies are able to generate such an astounding amount of revenue by refusing to change their ways of production, even when there is exponential evidence that change is necessary.
Individuals are then blamed for environmental impact, as opposed to the companies that create the most damage. The push to ban plastic straws, plastic bags, and plastic water bottles has incredible potential to make a difference, but using the emotional intelligence of individuals, and convincing them that the earth is dying solely because of their everyday choices, is manipulative and designed to distract from the fact that the biggest polluters are also the biggest generators of money. More affluent people may feel entitled to belittle and degrade those with much less ability to make sustainable changes, even going so far as to say that if someone is not going all the way in for the planet, then they aren’t doing anything at all. With this, of course, lies the hypocrisy of celebrities and influencers preaching about saving the planet while still traveling in private jets to massively exploitive destinations in order to generate media that is designed to convince the everyday person that this is something to strive for.
These facts are the exact reason that so many individuals feel overwhelmed by the idea of saving the earth, and therefore would prefer not to take any responsibility for it. They find it much easier to point to these hypocrites and mass corporations and claim that there is no way that they, as a single person, could do anything to make a change. Obviously, if it was only one person trying to save the environment, this would be true, but luckily, there are 7.8 billion humans on this planet, most of which are able to make conscious decisions that can not only help the earth, but also themselves.
Do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed, and don’t believe that perfection is the only option. Any single small little thing that any one of us does, ever, makes a difference. If every single person in the United States did not eat meat for one day a week, we would save 100 billion gallons of water and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide. Reminder: this is avoiding eating meat for one day a week. Going completely plant-based one day a week would make the environmental impact of taking your car off of the road for five weeks. One reusable bag is estimated to save up to 700 disposable plastic bags per year. California reported that, with 95 of its cities, they spend nearly $500 million a year to clean up trash. This money is directly taken from individuals through taxes, so less money spent on litter cleanup would mean that the money deducted through taxes could be used on something much more beneficial to the communities, like more greenways and waterways, both of which would help with the quality of air and, therefore, life. Single-use plastic straws not only take up to 200 years to biodegrade, but because of their design, they are prone to slip into waterways and cause significant damage to local and international wildlife. It is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050 if consumers continue the current trends.
The very best things that individuals can do is be conscious of where their money is going.
- Make sure to pay attention to who you are giving your money to, and if they are actually holding up what they claim to.
- Avoiding meat and other animal-based products once a week is an incredibly simple and efficient way to make a difference.
- When you do choose to eat animal-sourced products, look for humanely- and sustainably-raised meat and dairy, and shop local, when possible.
- Invest in a small collection of reusable straws and dining ware that you can carry with you, so if you get carry out or fast food, you can use these items instead of the disposable cutlery that is provided at these establishments (the author personally uses and recommends these straws and this silverware set).
- Buy a few reusable bags. Support smaller artists by buying bags with their designs and artwork on them, so not only are you helping to save the environment, but you’re looking cute while doing it. This tote bag is a great starting piece at a good price.