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CNN Perpetuates Destructive Climate Change Myth

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just one example of how major corporations are killing the planet. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Stumberg)

CNN drew the ire of environmentalists Tuesday by focusing its discussion of climate change on what individuals can do—without addressing the influence of corporations’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Solutions such as vegetarianism, public transit and smart home appliances ultimately pale in comparison to the harm caused by fossil fuels. The cable news outlet borrowed its suggestions from a report published Monday by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report found the planet to be at risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages by 2030, and it listed a number of ways in which individuals could reduce their carbon footprint. But solving our climate crisis isn’t quite so simple.

It may feel helpful, even soothing, to think small cultural changes could make a huge difference. A study published last year found that since 1988, 100 companies are responsible for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The highest-emitting corporations included ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron. Collectively, these four companies are responsible for 6.49 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.N. report suggests reducing the amount of meat we eat. A vegetarian diet does create a reduced carbon footprint, but on the other hand, fruits and vegetables are more likely than meat to be wasted. Although the livestock industry is responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions, even vegan foods, such as rice, can have a large carbon footprint.

The report also recommends making homes more environmentally friendly. As I’ve written before, changes such as installing solar panels and smart-home thermometers can have a positive impact, but are prohibitively expensive for many people. Meanwhile, low-income communities are experiencing the consequences of climate change every day through pollution in the air and water, and are ever more vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Individual action appears to be tethered to an imagined reality. Take, for example, the growing movement to address ocean pollution by banning plastic straws.

“The fixation is weird,” writes David M. Perry in Pacific Standard, adding that it shames disabled people, for whom plastic straws are a huge help:

There’s nothing wrong with pushing people to be more environmentally conscious. But individual action is not going to save our oceans. Our industrial systems continue to flood waste facilities with plastics, big and small. From there, plastics flow into rivers and streams and are carried into the sea. We need to look at the systems that generate these plastics, and hold producers financially responsible for safe disposal. Let’s put our efforts where the money is, rather than shaming disabled consumers who just want an accessible drink of water.

The reality is that fossil fuels are destroying our planet, and no amount of solar panels and lifestyle changes will save it if major culprits are not held accountable.

Naomi LaChance
Naomi LaChance has written for local newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and the Poughkeepsie Journal as well as national outlets including NPR, the Intercept, TYT Network and the Huffington Post. Her…
Naomi LaChance

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