It’s easy to brush off climate change as a problem for future generations. This approach is selfish, but it feels easier than the alternative: admitting that societal changes have to happen in order to save the planet. Why deal with an issue that won’t impact us directly?
But the reality of climate change is stark. According to a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of researchers appointed by the United Nations, the effects of climate change are likely to be drastic and irreversible by 2040. Within the next two decades, the IPCC predicts dying coral reefs, rising global temperatures, food shortages and mass flooding and wildfires, all of which could lead to the displacement of entire populations.
So, as students, what responsibility does that leave us?
The short answer is very little. There are, undoubtedly, actions that we can (and should) all take to reduce our carbon footprint and help the environment. But the main culprits of climate change are beyond individual action: pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are largely the result of large corporations and industries. More than anything, we need to hold companies and industries accountable for their environmental impact.
There’s a tendency to blame climate change on specific things and on individuals rather than targeting corporations as a whole. For example, this past summer saw a growing societal hatred for plastic straws, which are widely seen as ocean-polluters and sea-turtle-killers. While a ban on plastic straws is a step in the right direction, plastic straws only account for about four per cent of the plastic trash that winds up in the ocean. On the other hand, Greenpeace Canada reports that only five corporations — Nestlé, Tim Hortons, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s — accounted for 46 per cent of identifiable branded plastic pollution collected during a global cleanup initiative.
The obsession with straws was simply a distraction from the bigger issue of corporate pollution. It’s easy for people to find small, feel-good solutions for global issues. When you whip out a bamboo or metal straw to use in your Tim Hortons iced coffee, you might feel that you’re contributing to a brighter future for the planet. And you are, to an extent. But odds are that the plastic and non-biodegradable Tims cup you drink out of will still wind up in a landfill or floating in a body of water.
Don’t get me wrong: as students, we should all be taking action. We should be ordering less styrofoam-packaged takeout from Skip the Dishes, using reusable water bottles and travel mugs, eating less meat and dairy, and buying goods from sustainable companies. We have a responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint and be environmentally conscious whenever we can. That being said, it’s important to remember that the onus to save the planet isn’t entirely on individuals.
For tangible change to happen, corporations need to be held accountable. Government officials need to take action and institute restrictions on corporate greenhouse gas emissions and pollution (Trudeau has yet to speak to the IPCC’s report). Companies need to own up to their environmental impact and start finding solutions. Small steps forward have been happening locally; just this year, The Spoke introduced biodegradable cups and straws. But there needs to be more than that.
It’s unfair to blame individuals for a problem that, at this point, is so far beyond us. For now, all we can do is be conscious of our own environmental impacts. But our individual actions aren’t enough to save the planet from the drastic impacts of climate change that are coming our way.
Do your part, get angry at your government officials and pray that big changes happen soon. We have 22 years.