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The Guardian published a photo series this month called “Overpopulation, Overconsumption,” showing us just how epically humans are changing the Earth. Every picture screams that small-time conservation isn’t going to cut it anymore — standouts include a California landscape packed with oil wells, a bunch of stumps where a national forest used to be and a surfer catching a wave that’s more trash than water. So what’s making the environment a complete wreck these days? The title of the article says it all, pointing a finger at humans and their evil habits of eating and reproducing. After all, isn’t the whole species responsible when it comes to killing the environment?
Well, the short answer is that we are. By next year, the “Age of Man” might even be classified as its own geological epoch. No wonder, since an average of three species go extinct every hour — almost entirely because of human activity. But don’t sell your gas-guzzler and move to a commune just yet. This isn’t the whole story. Of course we’re less eco-friendly than nomads in Kenya, but even a Hummer-driving American looks like a flower child compared to the real culprit. The environmental disaster happening now has “business sector” written all over it. Getting corporations under control and stopping climate change are shaping up to be the same thing. In other words, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” isn’t relevant anymore.
On a scale from “recycle your liquor bottles” to “make Molotov cocktails out of them,” though, Americans are playing way too nice in the fight to save the planet. The debate about who’s causing climate change is practically over — nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions have been caused by just 90 companies, almost all of them in the energy business, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Whole countries in the Pacific Ocean, like the Marshall Islands, are getting ready to evacuate because of sea level rise and health scientists are talking about human extinction. Stopping energy companies in their tracks should join our list of efforts at preventing these tragedies.
Halting oil and gas exploration will be a good start, but there’s a big opposition ahead of us. TransCanada isn’t going to grow a heart and abandon the Keystone XL pipeline anytime soon. Droughts in California didn’t stop fracking companies from using 70 million gallons of water last year. Protesting for legislation is the only way to stop these guys. That’s a step up from simply using less fuel, which is a pretty big cop-out. Guilt about how much fuel we use as individuals has to become a thing of the past.
No one besides an oil executive should feel guilty looking at a picture of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, the 2010 oil spill that’s featured in the Guardian story. We didn’t kill 11 people and set the Gulf of Mexico on fire by filling our cars up with gas. Blaming the customer actually does lead to a pretty interesting (and useless) idea for an environmental cause, though. In an article for The New York Times a few years back, a UC Berkeley professor told us to start using greener products to force businesses to stop destroying the planet. He called it “conscious consumption.” But the kind of activism that our environment needs from us won’t be found in a grocery store aisle. We’re more than consumers, and focusing only on “conscious consumption” holds us back from getting into the political arena where our biggest victories will come.
New alarm bells are going off for the environment. They’re calling for bigger strategies that put blame where it needs to be. That’s not to say that our eco-friendly habits are doing any harm, but times are changing. When entire countries are underwater and energy companies are still thinking up new ways to put carbon into the atmosphere, should we really be proud that we brought our own bags to the grocery store? Organizing and protesting for laws that reign in corporations is quickly becoming the only solution we have. As our list of alternatives gets shorter and shorter, a mass popular movement for the environment is desperately needed in America — one of the few countries that can really make a difference.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jared Conner at email@example.com.