Ride your bike. Stop eating meat. Take shorter showers. Switch to non-dairy milk. Buy organic.
These are some things we’re told we can do to minimise our environmental impact and maximise our sustainability effort. As far as my own social circle goes, I feel like we’re at least on the path to mastering many of the above. Most of my friends opt for non-dairy or meat-free alternatives, carry reusable bags and KeepCups, use natural cleaning products and shop sustainably where possible. So, why then do we still feel so guilty about not doing enough for the planet? If I’ve been vegetarian for 7 years, if I shop second hand, if I catch public transport or carpool, if I haven’t seen a plastic bag in years, what am I doing wrong?
Recently I’ve realised this feeling isn’t my wrongdoing per se, but a widely spread phenomenon called climate guilt or anxiety. If you’ve never heard of it but seem to relate thus far, climate guilt is anxiety about the future of our planet due to climate change. While it’s important to remain conscious of our individual role in the future of our planet, the problem also lies in our failure to discuss who the biggest perpetrators are and their contribution to the climate crisis. Unsurprisingly, this title falls on large corporations, namely those in the oil and coal industries. Instead of taking accountability, many companies guilt us into thinking the battle against climate change is an individual responsibility, offering us to grow our own Discovery Garden (Woolworths) or offset our carbon emissions on flights. Meanwhile, their large scale contribution to a sustainable future remains minimal.
We can’t ignore Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge, a 46,000 year old sacred site in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, in a discussion about corporate impact on our environment. Destroying this sacred site is direct evidence of the power these companies hold, with little to no accountability, it’s unfortunate to see how their environmental impact flies under the radar of our Liberal government. It certainly isn’t fair, and it should make us all outraged.
In a 2017 Carbon Majors Report, 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions were traced back to only 100 companies. Hopefully that eases your climate guilt at least a little. The truth is, the fate of our planet is not entirely dependent on whether or not we recycle our takeaway containers. While collectively we do have the ability to make a difference, the lack of accountability from large corporations means the push we need for most major environmental changes lie in the hands of untaxed millionaires. This is largely due to the fact that many of us rely on the products that these companies produce; cars, petrol for our cars, new phones, bigger TVs, and the like. Our consumerist society forces us to necessitate these products, where the most accessible are often those manufactured by unsustainable corporations that leave a large carbon footprint. Consumerism at its finest.
While we’re being guilt tripped by corporations into thinking we’re fighting climate change alone, mining companies are destroying heritage sites and sacred land, all while having hugely negative impacts on the planet. Yes, we should be doing our part, but perhaps our biggest battle for a sustainable future is in ensuring these industry operations don’t continue destroying our environment on such a large scale.
That’s not to say our sustainability efforts are without positive impact. When we commute on a bike, we’re reducing our C02 emissions. Every time we bring a reusable bag to the supermarket we are keeping plastic bags from ending up in the ocean. Every time we buy non-dairy milk we’re choosing not to support an industry that uses a devastating amount of water resources. While it’s completely normal to feel climate guilt, I hope this piece has encouraged you to understand that we cannot hold ourselves accountable as the sole reason for climate change, but rather it is majorly affected by slack corporate operations and consumerism.
Written by Nikki Sztolc
Cover image by Nahum Gale