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The Climate Blame Game

I challenge you to a quick Google search: how to limit climate change? Press enter and you’ll be greeted with a swarm of articles on how small individual lifestyle changes can help our planet. Swap 4 wheels for 2, go vegan, turn off the tap when brushing your teeth, install solar panels and buy second-hand clothes. The list goes on- all implying the reversibility of climate change is individual consumers’ sole responsibility. Is this fair? Especially considering that, in the small space of time since you’ve started reading this article, approximately 17 metric tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions have been emitted into our atmosphere, mostly by colossal profit-minded corporations. So, who is responsible for climate action? This a vital question to ask since climate scholar Genevieve Guenther states:

“By hiding who’s really responsible for our current, terrifying predicament, we provide political cover for the people who are happy to let hundreds of millions of other people die for their own profit and pleasure.”

More importantly, can knowledge of the roots of climate change help us begin much-needed climate action before it’s too late?

Should climate action start at home?

As a society, we have unequivocally entered the largest phase of overconsumption and human activity. Though it is significantly less than large companies, the average person emits 19 tonnes of GHGs per year on average. To put this into perspective, this is enough GHGs each year to fill the Statue of Liberty thrice. Yes, thrice. Therefore, by eradicating just a quarter of your emissions, you could inhibit hundreds of tonnes of GHGs from entering the atmosphere over the course of your life. Our power over a lifetime can really made a difference.

Due to these numbers, some argue that climate action is the responsibility of individuals.

However, this data doesn’t acknowledge that some people simply can’t afford to live a sustainable lifestyle. For instance, in some third-world countries, people rely on high-emission diesel generators to generate electricity to live as they do not have access a clean electricity supply. Arguably, climate action isn’t an equally shared responsibility as some individuals have more means than others to make sustainable lifestyle changes.

Though, the power of the people can overpower powerful people. For instance, Climate Coalition: UK's largest lobby on climate change political discourse on climate change by the help of activism, protests and lobbying by members of the public. Also, individuals may be able to encourage corporations to adapt their production patterns to more sustainable approaches by changing consumption habits on a big scale.

However, this could be considered far too optimistic. A rivetingly forlorn contradicting fact is that our individual sustainable lifestyle changes can reduce carbon emissions- on a tiny scale only. This is incomparable to the mammoth scale of fossil fuel companies’ GHG emissions. Some argue that they should be held accountable.

Should climate action start in the boardrooms of large fossil fuel companies?

To gain a fuller understanding on the responsibility of climate action, it is important to understand who holds the power over the choices available to all these individual consumers: fossil fuel companies.

According to a recent study, just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Yes, you read that right. Giants such as Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, British Petroleum (BP) and America’s ExxonMobil and Chevron line their pockets whilst 8 billion people pay the price in the form of a warming planet.

Some companies have focused their efforts on some green investments including renewable energy and carbon capture and storage. However, unlike individual-level climate action, little has been done and fossil fuel companies are not “walking the talk on climate action”. For instance, fossil fuel companies have also partaken in spreading misinformation about global warming, spending millions lobbying against climate procedures and shifting the guilt onto consumers. All whilst claiming they are trying to be “greener”. Additionally, a study demonstrates that less than 1% of their capital investment went into low-carbon technology between 2010-2018. Even worse, multibillion-dollar company ExxonMobil accurately predicted that climate change would cause global temperature to soar all the way back in the 1970s, decades before it became a public issue.

“They’re basically saying, ‘we’re going to increase production, we’re going to increase emissions, but we’re also going to be able to claim being this clean tech company, this green company, because we can take some symbolic actions that make it look like we’re in the climate fight.”

Unequivocally, many argue that large fossil fuel companies have the most power in controlling climate action and should therefore pave the way.

Final thoughts

Large fossil fuel companies can doom individual efforts regarding climate action. Therefore it is vital that they take responsibility for their actions and act on climate measures. But how?

To assert an extensive change, we need technological innovation, structural reform and compelling environmental legislation globally. Our governments have the authority to regulate industries' GHG emissions through legislation regulations so that environmental protection standards are carried out and maintained.

All of this is not to say that individuals cannot or should not do what they can to change their behavior where possible. But Morten Fibieger Byskov, a postdoctoral researcher in international politics sums up this argument perfectly when he states:

“While individuals may have a role to play, appealing to individual virtues for addressing climate change is something akin to victim-blaming because it shifts the burden from those who ought to act to those who are most likely to be affected by climate change. A far more just and effective approach would be to hold those who are responsible for climate change accountable for their actions.”


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