What Does the Environment Really Need?

Updated: Nov 14

How often have we all been told that we need to stop using plastic straws, recycle more, go vegan, and so on but how much of an effect are these choices actually having on saving our environment?

There are so many instances that I can think of where I have accidentally forgotten my reusable coffee cup at home or have bought a product with unnecessary plastic on it and then felt immensely guilty because I am adding to the environmental problems. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thought this before.

However, the truth is that while all of these things do have an impact on our environment and it is important to be eco-friendly and conscious, these choices are not always economically sustainable for everyone, and in reality, they are not going to change things for us on a bigger scale. Trying to buy fewer plastic products isn’t always feasible because of the sheer amount of products that are covered in plastic. Decisions that we are individually taking are never going to make enough of a difference unless we start to enact systemic change. We need to focus less on our own personal carbon footprint and instead look at what has the biggest carbon footprint.

How can we as the average environmentally-aware person hope to turn the climate crisis around when we are not even the biggest contributors to it? How do we create change when 71% of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions come from just one hundred companies in the world? In addition, the top twenty of the largest oil, natural gas, and coal companies are responsible for a collective contribution of 493 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide which results mainly from the combustion of their products and is tantamount to about 35% of all fossil fuel and cement emissions worldwide since 1965.

These companies are also doing their best to divert our attention away from them and onto ourselves instead, by greenwashing their image to appear environmentally conscious and as if they are “doing their part”. Greenwashing refers to a communication and marketing strategy which tends to be utilised by companies and other organisations. It comprises a firm using marketing and advertisements to convince consumers that their policies, aims, and products are environmentally friendly and present an image that appears ecologically responsible to the public. The term was coined by combining the words green and brainwashing and came into play in the early 1990s when NGOs (non-government organisation) wanted to expose large industrial companies who were engaging in environmentally harmful practices. The use of greenwashing only really started to become more popular in the 2000s when companies started realising that consumers were beginning to care about the impact that their decisions and activities had.

A quick example of this is the major oil and gas company BP which lies 6th on the CAI Top Twenty list. BP revealed their new slogan “beyond petroleum” in 2000 and also embarked on an advertisement campaign that involved TV commercials that would ask people about their carbon footprint and served to depict the company as forging ahead in environmental awareness and responsibility. The truth behind these companies’ greenwashing is that however they may seem to appear, their efforts have not amounted to any actual attempt to address the climate crisis and also serves to deflect responsibility and accountability away from them and onto the individual.

According to an analysis on understanding political and economic behaviour toward decarbonisation in the oil and gas industries, which investigated ten major oil companies between 2008 and 2019, researchers found that not only have none of them been moving away from fossil fuels, but also that “not a single major oil and gas firm has invested more than 0.1% of revenues into renewable energy" during the time frame that the analysis took place.

While continuing to extract fossil fuels, oil companies have also been busy constructing new pipelines and developments, such as the Line 3 pipeline*, which has massive connotations for future carbon emissions considering that after a development has been built, it will continue extracting until it has regained at least what it cost to build. All of the 10 companies analysed by researchers are also “planning significant expansion of oil and gas assets, totaling some USD$1.4 trillion in the period 2020-2024.”

So how do we, now knowing this, work with the situation we are in? How do we hold these massive companies accountable? Thanu Yakupityage, who works for an environmental organisation called 350 that is dedicated to fighting climate change, believes that part of the problem is the level of consumerism. “When we talk about consumption, we're talking about the level at which we consume and the level at which we're engaged in these capitalist forces,” Yakupityage says “It’s another reason why corporate greenwashing is dangerous; promoting your product as being “greener” than another one perpetuates the idea that the solution is to consume differently, not consume less.

Ultimately, we as individuals can help by consuming less and corporations by reducing the consumerism drive. We need to change the mentality that we have of accumulating wealth and material possessions, in order to feel safe and secure, to one of prosperity. Richard Rudd says “prosperity is also about more than spending the energy we have accumulated – it is about spending it in the right way. It is about spending it on the essential – on that which enhances, inspires, simplifies, and lightens, rather than on the inessential, which drains, burdens, and complicates your life.”

This is not a simple solution and major corporations are not going to suddenly start changing their policies but this can offer a start. One of the ways to accomplish this is to take on huge industries through the climate justice movement, which you can support. People can also be stuck in their ways and resistant to change, so working together, helping to educate and electing officials and leaders who will stay true to their “greener future” promises, and enact change is how you can make more of a difference.

* The Line 3 pipeline is an oil pipeline owned by the Canadian multinational Enbridge


Transition, Hedge, or Resist? Understanding Political and Economic Behavior toward Decarbonization in the Oil and Gas Industry

Green, Jessica F. and Hadden, Jennifer and Hale, Thomas and Mahdavi, Paasha, Transition, Hedge, or Resist? Understanding Political and Economic Behavior toward Decarbonization in the Oil and Gas Industry (September 17, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3694447 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3694447

Prosperity: A guide to your Pearl Sequence (The Gene Keys Golden Path Book 3) by Richard Rudd


The Carbon Majors Report


Climate Accountability Institute update of the Carbon Majors Report


Thanu Yakupityage


About the author:

I’m Tessa Schroenn, a 17-year-old girl from South Africa who has a passion for travelling and exploring the world, loves a good laugh, and can’t wait to curl up with a book and a blanket, especially on rainy days!


#ecofriendly #sustainable #sustainability #earth #zerowaste #recycle #sustainableliving #environment #vegan

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