Consumers Vs. Capitalism Vs. Climate Change: Who’s At Fault?

By: Fiona Ogilvie

We are all well aware of the climate crisis facing Earth. We’ve also been told that we are to blame. However, climate change isn’t as simple as that. 

Yes, homo sapiens are the problem and have been its greatest downfall for as long as we’ve inhabited Earth. But what about us? The ‘normal’ people are often the ones who receive the fault. We are the ones that aren’t doing enough to ‘save’ the planet; we need to recycle more, pick up trash, turn off the tap and lights. Because we’ve been told that not recycling, picking up trash, or turning off the lights has put the environment into the dire situation it’s in, we automatically blame ourselves. But what if those ‘normals’ have a much smaller part in the issue where we’ve received the blame?

Where does this conversation actually stem from?

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Who’s been telling us that our lifestyles need to change, to ‘save the world’? To name a few of the responsible: influencers, big corporations, celebrities, and trendy teen stores have all caught our eyes on social media. Perhaps you became enamoured with the newest hack to save the environment using a product the fast-fashion company is obviously promoting. Maybe it’s your favourite celebrity showing off how environmentally friendly they are by drinking green smoothies and using as little plastic as possible (while simultaneously driving a flashy car that can’t help but produce heaps of thick, black smoke). Yes, using less plastic is good for the environment, but the critics (some would call them the realists) can’t help but think pessimistically about if that will ever be enough to reverse the harm we’ve caused.

Shouldering Responsibility

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So, who’s responsible? 

The answer is short and simple: rich people. 

According to BBC, the wealthiest 10% across 86 countries consume 20 times more energy than the poorest 10%. Of course, when you have money to spend, it’s easy to blame those less advantaged. So yes, at its root, climate change is rooted in capitalism; those with privilege and money can easily deceive and exploit those without it, including the planet. According to The Guardian, since 1988, 100 companies have been the source of over 70% of the Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions. What companies are in charge of such atrocities, you ask? They’re the exact same companies you know and love.  The Guardian states that ExxonMobilShellBP, and Chevron are among the worst. What do these companies have in common? They’re all in the business of oil and gas: the most significant offenders in the climate change crisis. At first glance, their corporate websites are convincing the consumer that they are, in fact, ‘green’ companies, are making the world a better place, and are oh-so-conscious of their effects on the environment. They do this by shoving numbers down the throats of ‘commoners’ and adding the colour green to their logo while scapegoating and blaming economics, democratic government, and us, the people who aren’t doing enough to solve the problems they’ve caused. BP’s website uses words like reimagine, passion, and dramatic, and a green, leafy logo, to show just how amazing they’re doing. BP’s ‘strategy’ is vague: “Building on our purpose, together with our beliefs about the future of energy systems and changing customer demands, our strategy is built around three focus areas of activity and three sources of differentiation to amplify value.” 

Where Capitalism Comes to Play

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Obviously, these companies don’t actually plan to cut their emissions. They believe that feeding us garbage about how much they care about the future, energy, customer demands, and value amplification will distract us from the fact they have no intent to change their emissions ways. That’s the basis of capitalism.  

Oxford Dictionary states that capitalism is “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” Basically, this is an elite group of people doing whatever they must (to whoever they must) to fill their pockets. Of course, this includes exploiting the Earth until it can’t take anymore, as well as leaving the middle and lower class to fend for themselves in a fiery apocalyptic world (looks like Dylan O’Brien has been trying to tell us something in all his movies). Why do you think Elon Musk is trying to hightail it out of here and colonize Mars? So those who stripped Earth of its total worth and added it to their own will now have yet another planet to exploit.

The Irresponsible Consumer – and How To Change

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While big companies are making the emissions, consumers are not off the hook. According to the World Economic Forum, “consumers are responsible for 60%-70% of all direct and indirect emissions.” So the rich may be polluting, but we as a society are funding it. 

With this in mind, how can we make a difference when our actions seem to be constantly reversed by those with power (aka money)? One answer can be to shop consciously. Start off your eco-friendly switch by using this carbon footprint calculator from the WWF, and see what changes you can make to reduce your footprint.

#endfastfashion has 21.1K posts on Instagram as of July 16, but unfortunately, it seems to have become a trend that will likely die out. The fast fashion industry is based on companies making cheap – in price and quality – clothes that will be out of fashion and unwearable in as little time as possible. This industry is known for taking advantage of third-world countries, child labour, sweatshops, and those with ‘nothing to lose’ plus a willingness to work well under minimum wage. Not only does this system abuse people, but also their homes. According to the UN Environment Program, “The fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water and is responsible for 8-10 per cent of global carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.” This is starting to sound familiar…what’s the definition of capitalism again? 

As a teenage girl who, I’ll admit it, has used this system to my advantage in the past, I have realized that changing my ways doesn’t mean compromising style or price, and is surprisingly better for my wallet. There are some easy ways to keep up in the fashion world while saving our planet!

A colossal tip that you’ll hear from many individuals is to REUSE! Thrift stores, PoshmarkDepop, and many more sell used clothes for heavily discounted prices and are usually in excellent condition. Secondly, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Try limiting yourself to only supporting fast fashion once every other month, eventually minimizing until your wardrobe is made of entirely sustainable pieces. Small businesses are also a must for shopping sustainably. Check out the Good on You website (also available as an app), which will give a rundown of brands based on their impact on animals, people, and the planet. You can subscribe to The Cajor, as we will be posting a comprehensive list of places to shop sustainably from later this week!

To Move Ahead

I am not trying to spread useless, fake positivity and hope. There’s no denying it: we have royally screwed up this planet. The most crucial step in any recovery is admitting there’s a problem, that everyone holds a part of the blame (yes, even the plastic-free vegans who pop up on the ‘For You’ page). Guilt is incredibly easy to manipulate, and taking the fault can reduce some guilt of your own and maybe even provoke a friend into admitting that, she too, ate a burger last week; that she is part of the problem. Everyone can do better, so let’s start there. Only this way will we be able to mend what we have broken.

3 thoughts on “Consumers Vs. Capitalism Vs. Climate Change: Who’s At Fault?

  1. China is a socialist country. They are going ahead with coal and oil and now lead the US in emissions. No capitalists there. The problem is fossil fuel use and is not limited to capitalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wholeheartedly agree that climate change is most definitely not limited to capitalism. Through this article, we were aiming to shed light on capitalism’s impact on climate change, which isn’t talked about nearly as much.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. Of course, capitalism isn’t the only cause of climate change, but it does play a part. Shedding light on its impact allows consumers to make decisions less harmful to the environment.

        Liked by 2 people

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