Why going green doesn’t work


Reduce, reuse, recycle. Turn off your lights when you leave the house. Take five minute showers. We are constantly reminded of all the ways that we, as people trying to navigate the day-to-day in a consumerist world, need to stop consuming. 

It’s difficult to lead an eco-friendly life when countless things we use, like phones, school supplies, and cars are made by burning fossil fuels or wrapped in plastic. Knowing what is unsustainably produced and consumed on a daily basis can feel immobilizing —  it’s hard to believe your individual resistance will make any difference. It is time to lift some of the burden of saving the planet off the shoulders of everyday people, and shift our attention toward the corporations that are doing the real damage.

Companies encourage and provide for overconsumption by over-extracting natural resources and polluting significantly more than consumers. Together, Amazon, Ikea, Nike, LG Electronics, and Walmart emitted 3.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses via import transportation to U.S. homes in 2021, according to Ship It Zero, a coalition of environmentalists working toward zero-emission shipping.  

Consumerism was not an accident; it has dominated the American economy since World War II when, according to Columbia University, automobile, TV, and household machinery manufacturers used patriotism to sell their products. A “true American” would buy a brand new car or washing machine out of their patriotic duty to fuel a strong, reliable economy. 

Even though Americans are no longer driven by this same sense of post-war duty to the economy, we are still buying more than we need. Since the post-WWII economic expansion, advertisers have learned how to appeal to people’s emotions to sell their products and have made shopping more accessible than ever before, according to the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development

This leaves us with a choice. Stop buying the things we need and think fulfill us, or cope with the guilt of knowing the environmental damage that results from making these purchases. Because a life without plastic is practically impossible, people are left feeling guilty for participating in a market they need but can’t control. 

In 1992, the U.S. helped draft the Convention on Biological Diversity, a multilateral treaty which would require a certain amount of replenishment when harvesting natural resources. However, the U.S. is the only member of the United Nations (UN) not to ratify it according to the Revelator, an initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity.

In fact, the United States is notorious for participating in creating but never actually implementing environmental treaties. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, more of these unratified treaties include the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. These treaties would set standards and limitations on the use of long-lasting hazardous chemicals and protect the marine environment. 

On the other hand, in 2021 President Biden instituted the first National Climate Task Force, according to the White House. This national task force, composed of 25 leaders from various agencies, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, reach 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, and give 40% of benefits from federal investments in clean energy to underprivileged communities. By requiring cleaner practices from corporations, these guidelines would lower the prevalence and danger of cheaply mass-produced products.

In addition, a number of major brands are making an effort to become more sustainable. Patagonia, for example, according to Sustainability Magazine, makes its outerwear out of sustainable materials and offers free repairs for a majority of their clothing. This discourages people from spending resources and money on new products. Campbell Soup Co., uses a circular approach to packaging their V8 juices, and relies on sustainable agriculture for sourcing their ingredients. Their packaging is designed to be reused, recycled, or composed rather than being thrown away. The company as a whole has also embraced the 1.5°C climate change goal, which is encouraged by the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to less than 1.5°C hotter than pre-industrial levels.

Most corporations do not make pledges like this. Blaming consumers and average people for the destruction of the climate is not only pointless, but it distracts from the real culprits and the steps that can be taken to reduce pollution on a larger, effective scale. 

To make a difference, attend protests, write to your senators, vote, and participate in the democratic process that’s necessary to pass legislation. One bill to look out for is known as the “Right to Repair” bill. Proposed in California last year but failed to pass, it is now being reconsidered, according to ABC7 News. This bill would require manufacturers to participate in repairing belongings, rather than encouraging consumers to simply buy new ones and would get us one step closer to a safer environment and less-consumerist world.

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