I will assume by now most people have probably seen the article floating around social media about the “100 People Responsible for Killing the Earth” from the blog here. They talk about how it’s a myth that we can have more impact on our environment as individuals and that the only way to fix it is by calling attention to these 100 companies and their CEOs. They make light of the real issue of plastic wastes and place that responsibility solely on the companies. I want to discuss how damaging these articles are and how they serve to further a serious apathy problem towards the environment and climate change. The article is doing nothing more than allowing us a scapegoat to shift away our personal responsibility as consumers and as individuals living on this planet.
This article would have you believe that everything is the fault of these 100 companies and more specifically, their CEOs. The information they used to make this list comes from the CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017 on Green House Gas emissions specifically. Even though it’s a list of 100, 50% of those emissions can be traced to just the top 25 of those on the list. What these articles ignore completely is the effect on the environment from sources other than Green House Gases. The article is misleading and not well researched at all.
Don’t get me wrong, these kinds of reports are very important in determining real issues affecting our environment. Us being able to see these top companies does empower us as consumers to know which companies are causing problems and to avoid them. However, when the information is used in conjunction with misleading information, they become dangerous as well. Though they used primarily Green House Gas emission information for this list, they seem to think that also covers waste and environmental issues outside of GHG emission. They claim that it’s a myth that we can have any impact on our environment by making smart choices as individuals while making light of the plastic waste issue by joking about straws as if the CEOs of these companies are going out into the oceans and dumping tons of plastic waste as if consumers and our waste management crisis have nothing to do with it.
Let’s dive deeper into some of the waste issues. Did you know that forests help absorb a good chunk of carbon emissions? Did also you know that, in America alone, about 1 billion trees worth of paper is thrown away? Not recycled, thrown away. As individuals, we throw away about 7 trees per person a year. So if they’re not being recycled, more trees are having to be cut down to replace and continue production. Can you see the problem here? More and more studies are showing the importance of trees, especially old growth, in regulating our planet’s temperature, however we can’t rely only on planting trees, it’s just one piece to the whole puzzle. We also use around 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour and most of them are not recycled. Recycling in America is having issues due to public confusion and lack of education about what is recyclable which has led to more and more garbage being thrown into recycling bins causing even more problems. A Yale study showed that we’re only at a small 21.4% recycle rate in the U.S. due to this and other waste problems. Yale also found, back in 2015, that we were also throwing away double the amount of plastic than originally thought. As for the world as a whole, 91% of waste isn’t recycled.
Even more recently, a study found the U.S. produces 3 times the global average of waste and among the lowest performers in waste management. Not only that, but the world as a whole has been selling its waste to poor developing nations to deal with, causing more waste issues which has led to a lot of waste mismanagement and overload, causing it to end up in the oceans and other natural spaces. Along side this, shipping and online business has contributed to this waste problem as well. The various methods of shipping also contain their own challenges and risks that can cause harm to the environment. Throw in the shipping of food products all over the world and even just buying imported foods from the grocery store supports GHG emissions and other waste problems.
Now on to the call-out nature of the article. The list of CEOs of these companies itself is also a bit silly. Blaming the CEO alone while ignoring the shareholders, which also contribute plenty to issues, and the consumers is nothing more than blame shifting. It’s a way to satisfy the call-out culture and also a self pat on the back for pretending like something was actually done to help the situation by sharing the article without actually doing anything. Again, the article even encourages people to give up on the thought that individual action actually has an impact. We have a significantly larger effect on our local environments and bio-regions than these CEOs or their companies. In many cases, the company is the source, but it is our money that funds and supports them. We as consumers are fueling the fire, but as long as we have someone else to blame, we can ignore that fact.
Companies grow and succeed from the consumer. When we choose to buy single use plastics like straws over environmentally safer solutions, we are supporting these companies. The choices you and I make with our money directly has an impact on the whole situation. To blame these companies and their CEOs and then also encourage others to ignore the “myth” of personal responsibility in the same article is actually mind blowing. They are telling us to blame the company, but also continue to support them with our money by continuing to buy environmentally irresponsible products. The products we buy and use does matter to our environments. Buying, using, and throwing away products that don’t biodegrade is having a direct impact as an individual whether we like it or not. Your choices do matter. There are alternatives, but they require a bit more effort and that just wont do in our current culture of instant gratification and consumption. We do have options, we just prefer to go the quick and dirty route.
Your plastic bottle can last for 450 years in the ocean, but even then it never goes away, it just breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastic. Your toothbrush, if you’re in the U.S., contributes to an annual 50 million pounds of toothbrush waste alone. Remember the waste management issues? Imagine how much of that ends up in natural spaces like the ocean.
Being a responsible consumer and purchasing biodegradable products does actually help. Growing your own foods or purchasing locally sourced food does actually help. Choosing to not support these companies does actually help. Calling them out and then continuing to support them does nothing to help. We have a lot of issues, from waste mismanagement to cultural attitudes, that contribute to the issue of climate and environmental damage. Naming problem companies is good, but shifting your own personal responsibility to feel better about yourself while doing nothing to change the problem is ridiculous. There is little practical application or value of this list that will actually help the problem other than to serve as a way for people to think they did something by sharing it.
It is not these comapnies and CEOs dumping trash in State Parks. It’s not these companies and CEOs throwing trash out of our car windows. It’s not these companies and CEOs leaving behind our trash on beaches. These companies and CEOs are not putting the products in our hands and forcing us to buy them. It is not these companies and CEOs leaving waste all over our streets and roadways. No, these are a result of irresponsible consumers stricken with apathy towards the environment.
Unless you live off the grid and produce 100% of your own food and natural based products (even then, there are still environmental impacts, just not as wide spreading), your name should be right there on that list with those companies and CEOs, my own included. Every one of us is responsible for the situation, we are all “killing the Earth” no matter how much you want to put on your blinders and shift the blame. We all share a responsibility towards our environment and each other, and this article going around spreads nothing but increased apathy. Even as individuals we have an impact on the environment.
On top of all of this, we have a culture problem. People generally just don’t care enough about the environment to actually do anything and most don’t seem to really appreciate the Earth and its resources. We are so used to quick and easy fast food culture that any kind of effort required by us is met with outrage and anger. A good example is the reaction people have had to straw and plastic bag bans. Convenience is king over everything. We desperately need a culture change which places the importance of the environment and the world we live in over the lazy convenience that damages it. We need better solutions and people willing to actually think about these solutions. Putting our own greed and selfishness below the importance of our world is what is going to provide a vehicle for us to change our path.
In order to add some practical value to this, unlike the original, here are some resources on how to reduce your impact:
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” – James Gustave “Gus” Speth, U.S. Climate Change Adviser/ Advisory Council Represent. Us