The oil industry and other major corporations have been doing some not great things lately (like, oh I don’t know, destroying living beings and our entire world for money). But I think it’s important to talk about something else that they also secretly love to do: making us believe that the climate crisis is our fault.
Okay sure, you probably know that you aren’t responsible for how much oil BP has extracted from the earth today. But have you ever thought about your personal carbon footprint? Well, fun fact: the carbon footprint calculator was released by an advertising firm working for BP in 2004 (maybe that wasn’t really a fun fact… sorry for lying, maybe I could become a big oil CEO though?). This cunning tool was designed so that everyday people would be preoccupied with trying to reduce their relatively tiny impact on global warming, rather than pushing BP to reduce their massive one.
Other major corporations do the exact same thing. For example, the Coca Cola Foundation funds recycling campaigns and community clean ups. Cool, right? Not really. Coca Cola Limited uses fossil fuels to package and sell 1.9 billion drinks of coke per day, has been the world’s worst plastic polluter for three years in a row, and plans to expand its production three-fold in the next year. But sure, we’ll be sweet if everyday people pick up rubbish once a year and ‘recycle’ their bottles (around 90% of the world’s recycling ends up in landfills).
If big oil and other major corporations started acting morally the world would definitely become a better place. But does that mean that I’m going to let you off the hook easily? I often hear people say, “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism”. Even though that is undoubtedly true, it often implies, “the system is exploitative but I’m going to use that to justify consuming whatever I want anyway”. You will never be able to become an ethically perfect consumer and your consumption habits will not single-handedly save the world, but that doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. If you have the means (access, ability, time, or money) then you have a moral obligation to become an ethically better consumer.
Leena Norms, a YouTuber I love, used an analogy about bullying to illustrate this idea perfectly: “You don’t see a kid on the playground intervene with another kid being bullied, pull them away by the ear and be like, ‘I know that kid got punched and I know that you’re trying to be really cool here. But you’re not going to solve the international problem of bullying, so simmer down, okay?’”
The same goes for whatever behaviour someone may choose to do to reduce their negative impact on the planet. These choices don’t make them perfect anti-capitalist heroes who have solved a global crisis—but they have made a positive impact. And when one third of the needed reduction of consumption to prevent ecological collapse can be achieved through individual lifestyle changes, any contribution has to count for something.
These corporations have underestimated us. They think we will believe the climate crisis is our own fault, and either collapse into complete eco-anxiety or obsess over our own impact on the environment, forgetting all about theirs. But I think we are intelligent enough to understand that we need to change our own individual behaviours and pull a massive middle finger to them at the same time.
We can catch buses instead of driving cars while signing petitions to defund fossil fuels. And we can take keep cups to small cafes while on the way to protest single-use plastics. We need to challenge the system and ourselves at the same time because even though the climate crisis is not your fault, it is definitely our problem.