Corporations need to step up to limit climate change

By Sandy Fairclough, Staff Columnist

Coral reefs dying, massive food shortages, wildfires and other natural disasters these are just a few of the horrors specifically highlighted in the latest U.N. report regarding climate change. The authors marked 2040 as the year humanity will begin to see the most dramatic changes caused by our abuse of our planet.

While there are still people in the United States who doubt the existence of climate change — our president among them — the scientific panelists at the U.N. have proved that if we want to avoid detrimental changes to our planet’s climate, someone needs do something to address the major impact human activity is having on the planet, fast. This responsibility lands on the large corporations who have most contributed to this environmental damage.  

Unfortunately, the authors of the U.N. report aren’t sure that we have the capability of reversing that damage quickly enough. In the report they noted that to avoid the worst of the foreseen environmental damage, the world economy would need to completely flip from being solely expansion and profit-oriented to resource-oriented in a matter of a few years. It would also have to handle the environmental damages that have already occurred — an estimated total of $54 trillion. While this change might be possible, it’s politically unlikely due to the way our world talks about and handles environmental issues.

The phrase “politically unlikely” raises the question of who is actually to blame for the extensive damage on our planet. With the current rhetoric concerning “going green”  — switching to a less environmentally harmful lifestyle — the blame seems to be placed on individuals. Public service announcements, advertisements and newspaper articles tell the average citizen to recycle, turn off their lights and walk instead of drive.

One of the most recent green trends circulating social media is #strawless, where instead of using disposable plastic straws food chains like the ones Starbucks hands out, consumers either go strawless or use a reusable one made out of metal — something many sustainable companies have recently started carrying. But it doesn’t stop with lights, plastic and cars. A 2017 study said that the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to have one less child.

While these are good individual steps to take, the current conversation would have us believe that it’s entirely on individuals to change the fate of our planet when, in reality,  the responsibility rests on a few dozen corporations.

The 2017 Carbon Mains Report, produced by the nonprofit global disclosure organization Carbon Disclosure Project, found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of all carbon emissions since 1988. The list includes many coal and oil companies such as Chevron, BP, Exxon Mobil and Shell. These kinds of companies could use their resources, knowledge and vastness to make a difference in carbon emissions, such as starting an international shift to clean energy or sponsoring affordable and widespread public transit.

Each of these ideas would reduce carbon emissions, but would not prove as lucrative as these large companies’ current methods, making it unlikely that they will concede to greener methods of production.

So while corporations focus on profitability, public discourse tells us to have one less child or to remember to turn our lights off. Meanwhile, corporations continue with the systematic destruction of our planet at the expense of humanity’s future.  

Along with this individualistic rhetoric of going green comes the idea of “greenwashing.” Greenwashing is when companies display one aspect of their company as green to market that they care about the environment, when in actuality the majority of their practices are destructive.

An example of this is the oil company Shell. Its website is full of photos of the Great Barrier Reef and statements about how much the company incorporates awareness of biodiversity into its mission. It boasts about working with The Nature Conservancy to restore areas that its operations have harmed, such as wetlands. But while Shell has made some low-effort commitments to restoration and to not drill for oil in specific areas in the world, it’s definitely not doing enough.  

If it truly want to successfully address the planet’s environmental issues, the company could stop its work in sensitive areas altogether, and place its efforts into clean energy instead. Its environmentalist endeavors are poor ways to disguise the fact that the bulk of Shell’s work is still destroying our oceans.

But since it appears unlikely that corporations like Shell will ever own up to their actions and change their ways, the individual is going to have to step in and apply pressure. While we may not be to blame for the bulk of the damage done to the Earth, we need to do as much as we can to challenge the corporations responsible for the harm done to the planet and the laws that allow them to get away with it.  

One way of doing this is to vote for candidates advocating for efforts to address climate change. A candidate’s stance on the environment is a great way to decide whether or not to vote for them.  Clean energy and resources need to be a priority in our government, and the more people we have serving in the government who want to fight climate change bolsters humanity’s chances at reversing the environmental damage that’s been done.

Tom Wolf, the current Pennsylvania governor who is running for reelection, has opposed the EPA cuts imposed by Trump and worked against drilling in national parks. Clean energy is also important to Bob Casey, who’s running keep his position for Senate. Jay Walker is a Green Party candidate for state representative who prioritizes several environmental policies such as banning fracking.

Something else individuals can do is research corporations and their efforts in eco-consciousness before endorsing them. We support a slew of different companies and their initiatives when we do everyday things like drink coffee, buy clothes or furnish our houses, and can choose to boycott ones that are lacking in their efforts. Some companies that are outspoken about sustainability include IKEA, Panasonic and Patagonia.

If humanity doesn’t change the way we handle environmental harm, the world will drastically change within the next century, affecting how we get our food, our energy and the other necessities of modern life. We’re already seeing the starting effects of environmental damage in the form of the increased natural disasters that plague our world. It’s up to everyone to do something about it — before it really is too late.