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A Consumer Conspiracy?

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According to The Guardian90 companies have been found responsible for two-thirds of climate change in the 21st Century - yet the majority of campaigns are still directed at the impact of the individual. 

         Sir David Attenborough has long talked on the need for governments to do more to combat climate change // Image Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Flickr

Stop using plastic shopping bags, turn the lights off, don't eat meat, ban straws, take public transport. These are all actions that we consumers are told to take in order to reduce our impact upon the environment. But have we been wrongly convinced that climate change is the fault and responsibility of the individual? 

Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, has written extensively about “corporate-funded climate denial” and the campaigns of 'disinformation' which many corporate companies who are responsible for burning the fossil fuels have continually funded since the 1980s. The Guardian’s interactive infographic chart highlights how the earth’s future is in the hands of less than 100 privately owned, state-funded or owned fuel companies. In this context, to support and fund the campaigns of environmental misinformation and emphasis on individual consciousness in the actions of the consumer detracts attention from the true power that these monopolies have in their global roles in the world. 

David Attenborough, who spoke at the UN’s People's Seat in COP24 in Poland earlier this month, has said in an interview with the BBC that “in the end the important actions can only be taken by big business, industry and by politicians”, despite the daily choices that we all make in regards to living more sustainably.

He warns that this is not “theoretical” but that these key players are “dealing with real people's futures”. He suggests that consumers can make a greater impact by being politically active by convincing their politicians to act on their concerns. 

Micheal Mann, Climate Change scientist, advocates for greater accountability, saying that “You can't burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it." The importance placed upon the accountability of a brand could also be a great way for companies to gain greater trust and higher numbers of customers. The Iceland banned Christmas advert is a rare example of a large supermarket chain taking direct responsibility in relation to an environmental concern - albeit translating it to consumer responsibility to shop with them. 

However, this is not to say that consumers have no power. Governments can be forced to act, often by consumers' political activism. Environmental organisations, such as Extinction Rebellion, have recently held numerous protests in London. The group embodies the increasingly common belief that only political action and civil disobedience will get sufficient attention to force the British government to react and declare an environmental emergency. 

Yet, for the foreseeable future, as profit margins triumph sustainability concerns, companies big and small will continue to burn fossil fuels and feed a stream of misinformation campaigns to detract from their own accountability. It will take deconstructing the power relations through political action, which place the need and profit of big business above that of the individual or environment, to begin to tackle these issues. 

Read more from The National Student Environment here. 




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