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So Whose Responsible For Cleaning Up The Planet Anyway?

I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz on social media lately about the recent UN report which states we have 12 years left (until 2030) to clean up our act. After this year, they predict climate change could become irreversible and nearly apocalyptic. This is incredibly alarming. 2030 is as far away as 2006, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s super close. This recent bombshell of a story has lead to a lot of discussion about what we as individuals should be doing to save the planet. Many people seem tempted to blame our environmental disasters entirely on the government not doing enough or on greedy corporations. The attitude I’ve seen a lot of online is something along the lines of “Corporations are the real problem so don’t ask me to make changes in my life.” As someone who is constantly trying to lessen my environmental impact, I find this attitude to be incredibly frustrating. Just because some people live less sustainable lives than you does not mean you get a free pass to damage the environment. The truth is, you probably do damage the environment somehow and it’s about time people took responsibility for it. Let’s break down why this attitude is not only toxic but counterproductive.


1) If corporations are the problem, consumers are still to blame


Guess what? We live under a capitalist economic system. Consumers drive the market by demanding certain things more than others. Every time you buy something, you are voting for more of it to be made with your dollar. You’re paying for the item and the entire process that made it, no matter how cruel, harmful or unsustainable the process was. You can change the way the market goes by buying more from businesses that share your values and encouraging your friends to do the same. If certain companies or items make a huge negative impact on the environment, boycott them and raise awareness as to why others should do the same. Less demand equals less production. This is very basic economics. For example, use less gas by carpooling or biking when possible, use less plastic by bringing a reusable coffee mug or water bottle or go thrifting instead of supporting fast fashion. No one is asking you to be perfect, but I am begging you to at least try. These things save money and the planet, and with enough people actively making these efforts it has the potential to completely shift the market. Systematic change begins with the individual.


2) If the government is the problem, voters are to blame


Guess what, folks!? We live under a democracy! Voters choose representatives that align with their values to pass the laws that govern our country. You have the power to go out and vote in favor of candidates that promise to make environmental stewardship their priority. You have the power to protest decisions you don’t like, vote people into or out of office and write to your representatives and express your concern for certain issues. This is another instance where little actions may not seem like they do much, but together they have a big impact. Raise awareness on issues that matter to you among friends and family. Be the person who starts a ripple effect of change. This is not the time to sit back and let other people do the work for you.


3) Individuals can make an impact on their own


One of the best examples of a little action that adds up is the water bottle fillers right here on campus. Each one of these handy water fountains counts how many plastic bottles it has kept out of the environment. The one on the middle floor of the library has saved over half a million water bottles, and each one on campus has saved thousands and thousands. Try to picture that many water bottles—it’s difficult. This is proof that your actions do add up and do matter. Imagine if the entire student body switched to reusable bottles, how many bottles would we save then? Now what if the whole town, county or state switched? Assess the parts of your day that create the most waste and get creative on how to cut it down. Maybe you can get a reusable shopping bag, reusable produce bags, get a travel mug for your coffee, store/transport your food in a plastic container rather than plastic baggies or even use a menstrual cup (if that applies to you/if you can).


Now we get to the part of the article where I make an appeal to plant based eating (which, you should have known was coming if you’ve read all my other articles or know me in real life) but hear me out! It is one of the biggest ways an individual can lessen their impact without spending a ton of money (like on an electric car or solar panels or something). You might even save money. I went grocery shopping this morning and spent $26 on groceries for the whole week, a total I could have brought down even further had I been making more strategic choices, but I digress. Beef and lamb emit 250 times more greenhouse gasses per gram of protein than legumes. Pork and poultry are somewhat better, but still emit 40 times more greenhouse gases than legumes. A report by the UN assess the impact of animal agriculture industry to be greater than the entire transportation sector. Also 80 percent of Amazon deforestation is due to cattle raising. This is one area where most people can improve, and their improvements can have a huge impact. Participate in meatless Mondays, try to have at least one plant based meal a day or even change your entire diet like I did. This is another way we can help influence the market and hold corporation to higher standards. By choosing a veggie burger or soy milk more often, you are proving to the companies that make these things that they’re profitable products, and as demand for these more environmentally friendly options goes up, more will be made.


While some of these actions might seem difficult or inconvenient, it will not be nearly as difficult as the collapse of the world’s ecosystems, mass species extinction or increased natural disasters. Now is not the time to shift the blame to others. Take action to hold those responsible for the destruction of the environment accountable, which includes yourself. It is the time to reevaluate your daily choices and think long and hard about the impact they have on others. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”


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Sydney is a member of the class of 2020 majoring in International Relations and Political Science with a minor in French. She is also Vice President of Geneseo's club figure skating team and coaches local kids in the sport on the weekends. While she's not really sure where life is going to take her yet, she's optimistic about the future.
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