I’m sure everyone’s been bombarded for the last few years by advocacy campaigns, articles, blog posts, and what have you on how to lead a “greener,” more enviromental-friendly lifestyle. Take the the train, ship, or bus instead of the plane. Bring steel, bamboo, reusable cups, utensils, straws instead of asking for single-use ones (remember the heart-wrenching youtube video of the turtle with a plastic straw up its nose?). Bring cloth bags when you go shopping. Eat more veggies and less meat. Don’t use fossil fuels, go solar. The list is endless.
I have no qualms about following these suggestions and, as a matter of fact, I am following some of them. It’s a bit hard to suddenly do away with what you’ve grown used to and, believe me, we’ve all gotten quite used to fossil fuels, single use plastics, and everything else in between.
However, while we put so much individual time and effort in greeing our lives and lifstyles, these same efforts are simply being negated by continued corporate plunder of the environment and natural resources.
In 2017, a report found that only 100 companies are responsible for an astonishing 71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. ExxonMobil, Chevron, British Petroleum, and Shell are some of the more memorable names on the list, while other companies come from China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, to name a few.
If you haven’t guessed yet, what these companies have in common is that they’re all in the multi-trillion dollar fossil fuel industry. And while we have been desperately fighting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to stop the world from going up in flames in the next few decades, the world’s 15 largest asset management groups, with combined market assets worth a whopping USD 400 trillion, have actually increased their investments in fossil fuel companies and projects by 20% since the 2016 Paris Agreement.
But why are these companies so free to do what they want when everyone else is worried about the climate crisis?
It all boils down to this ideological project called neoliberalism. You see, neoliberalism’s basic tenet is this: more power to the market and corporations and less state intervention.
Privatization, deregulation, lower corporate taxes, free trade deals, increased investments in natural resource exploitation, these are all trademarks of neoliberalism. At the same time, structural adjustment programs (primarily pushed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund), trade agreements, and national legislation and policies all limit the ability of the state to intervene in corporate profiteeting and market affairs. These same policies have also disemboweled the state’s capacity to provide welfare and other basic social services for the collective good of the people.
Thus, due to neoliberal policies, power lies in the hands of the corporations and the capitalist class that owns them. For the ruling elite, profit is king, never mind if it destroys the environment and causes a global climate meltdown in the process.
In addition, with the neoliberal capitalist hype about competition, individualism, and self-interest, we are made to believe that we, as individuals, are solely at fault for the current climate crisis. Capitalism has always been good at making us blame ourselves. It’s a person’s individual fault for being poor, uneducated, hungry, and jobless, nevermind that the system does not provide opportunities for education, better jobs and higher wages, or food security. It’s always the individual’s fault, capitalism says.
Now neoliberalism wants us to believe that we, as separate individuals, are solely responsible for the current climate crisis. And by simply carrying steel straws and riding a bike, we can save the world.
Again, we can’t discount our individual efforts in the struggle against the climate crisis. They are important, yet for them to be relevant and effective, there must be alternatives to the current system. People will continue to buy food at supermarket chains if organic food remains more expensive. We will continue to use private vehicles if there are no affordable and working mass public transportation systems available. And so on. You get the drift.
In order to avert the climate crisis, it will be necessary to first do away these free market ideas and policies. State powers to intervene for the common good must be reinstated, ownership of key industries and sectors should be returned to the public domain, increase corporate taxes to be able to invest in climate smart, sustainable technologies that benefit the collective, not just those who can afford to pay for it.
For these things to happen, our individuals acts must be combined with collective action in order to challenge neoliberal control. There have been efforts to demand accountability and action from the power-that-be, such as the recent Climate Strike, which drew seven million people in protests around the world.
To save the planet, power must be wrested from corporations and the elite and returned to collective hands. After all, there really is no Planet B.