Consumers: the ultimate scapegoat?


photo courtesy of Gabr

Blaming individual consumers for climate change shifts the responsibility away from governments and companies who hold the real power to stop it.

Gabrielle Krieger

In a time when climate change is a large source of anxiety for many, it’s comforting to make small changes to live more sustainably.

Yet, when we focus our energy into reusable straws and bags and accept that we’ve done our part for the planet, we lose the momentum that instead could be used to fuel large-scale change. Such satisfaction in small actions can breed passivity when our duties are far from over.

While making individual changes has merit in the statement it makes on the bottom lines of corporations, we shouldn’t shame people who don’t have the resources to make these changes. It’s also important to not forget about other valuable methods of influencing change.

The idea that climate change is the fault and responsibility of individual consumers, many of whom don’t have the privilege of affording sustainable alternatives, shifts the blame off governments and companies who hold the real power to stop it.

In fact, according to The Guardian, just 100 companies contribute to 71% of climate change. If we could encourage those 100 CEOs to change the way they run their businesses, we’d have a real chance of stopping global warming before irreparable damage is done.

Companies have been using tactics to avoid blame on environmental damages longer than many people think.

In the 1950s, companies actually started the original anti-pollution campaigns, not to help the environment, but to help themselves. According to the National Public Radio, they started encouraging people to stop polluting so consumers would be held responsible for pollution and companies wouldn’t have to change the materials they produce.

Accepting that sustainability is completely the responsibility of individual consumers only perpetuates the same narrative corporations have always spun.

Even if it seems like most of us don’t have the power to make immediate changes with big impacts, there is power in numbers and demanding that those in charge consider their actions. Instead of scattered attempts at individual sustainability, coordinated actions such as protests would be far more effective.