Opinion: Corporate pollutants must be condemned
Individual sustainability efforts should be vetted in favor of large-scale policy advocacy
Editor’s note: Abby Longo is involved with the Sierra Club and Extinction Rebellion.
One of the most dangerous contemporary delusions is that we are conquerors of our environment. This false sentiment has palpable consequences for the future of the planet and humanity. As a product of the human fixation on the development of industrial and energy sectors, scientists have begun to question the status of the Holocene, the geological era that the Earth has maintained for the past 12,000 years. The scientific community has instead proposed the entrance of a new age, the Anthropocene, which is characterized by the disruption of the natural flow of the environment as a product of extortionate human activity. Ultimately, the planet no longer functions and maintains equilibrium as it has historically.
The label for environmental degradation has evolved over the years, initially earning the title of global warming. However, as we learn more about the complexity of the changing climate and nomenclature continues to develop, climate change has progressed into the climate crisis. After all, that’s what it is: an emergency, and the perpetrators of the climate crisis are more tangible than you may think.
100 energy companies are responsible for over 70 percent of emissions within the past three decades. Considering the massive reign of terror that these corporations perpetuate via environmental damage and oil extraction, we as individuals need to reevaluate our role in preserving our environment.
While there is immense value in pursuing sustainable alternatives to longstanding habits, holistically, the climate crisis is not a result of plastic straw use and failing to reuse and recycle. It is a direct consequence of oil and coal extraction, with companies like Exxon and BP pioneering the path that will turn a vibrant planet into an uninhabitable shell.
In 2020, as individuals around the world were mandated to quarantine themselves within their homes, global emissions only dropped by 7 percent. Essentially, massive populations of people around were no longer obligated to participate in their pollutive commute to work, and still, a major percentage of greenhouse gases were being emitted into the atmosphere, and not at the hands of the individuals following government guidelines. Individual sustainability is a noble, well-intentioned pursuit, and I don’t intend to criticize these efforts. However, I urge you to mobilize on a more global level to enact change within the structures that allow a few major corporations to defile the planet. The emphasis on the Earth as a resource rather than the acknowledgment that ecosystems have inherent worth is a consequence of our habit as people and consumers to commodify. Labeling environmental features as “resources” makes it clear that this instinct to commodify is deeply entangled within us. There is a clear framing issue here. At present, through the resource-centric lens, we care only because resources are a profit opportunity to be exploited.
If you’re truly interested in contributing to fundamental, comprehensive environmental reform, I urge you to read about organizations within the D.C. area that host panels, disseminate petitions and campaign for political reform. The DC Sierra Club Chapter is a valuable resource, as is Extinction Rebellion DC. The DC Sierra Club has numerous campaigns within the city that work to improve energy efficiency. The group is undergoing the process of phasing out popular usage of methane in buildings. Additionally, the Sierra Club has been a vital advocate for passing legislation regarding energy and water efficiency within the city, reducing environmental consequences as well as economic injury. Along with this, the club holds public committee meetings concerning clean water, zero waste, clean energy, and smart and sustainable city growth. Similarly, Extinction Rebellion DC hosts an introductory orientation to the organization every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. for those seeking to inform and involve themselves. Both organizations have extensive resources throughout the United States as well as around the world, and a significant amount of mobilization and political leverage.
Buying from sustainably sourced brands, limiting your animal product consumption and composting are fantastic ways to reduce your carbon footprint. However, your footprint pales in comparison to that of notorious oil corporations. Coupling independent efforts with participation in larger organizations that have legislative influence and mass-mobilization capabilities are the most effective ways to approach the atrocity that is climate change.
Abby Longo is a junior in the School of International Service and a staff columnist for The Eagle.