“Canadians are just Americans in a colder climate,” the Ecological Literacy professor said to explain elevated emissions — a statement that saddened every Canadian in the room, including myself. Although it is difficult to admit, he was not entirely wrong. A distaste for American consumerism may be prevalent in Canada and Europe, but while these two regions may wreak less havoc, the truth of the matter is that both are still two of the predominant contributors to global warming.
Both Europeans and North Americans generally enjoy higher qualities of life, as shown by our disproportionately high carbon footprints. However, this has a cost: The “Apple ecosystems” in every lecture hall decimate the natural ecosystems around us. Following quickly-changing trends through fast fashion and even the euro travels we all take advantage of as Sciences Po students are only two examples of our day-to-day activities that fuel these never-ending emissions.
Yet, we are still convinced that we are not the problem. We blame climate change on the big corporations, who then blame other industries, who then circle the burden back to us for using their provisions. While it is important to allocate accountability where it is warranted, we cannot pinpoint others’ wrongdoings until we recognize our own flaws.
One of these flaws is global economic inequalities. The G20 are responsible for 80 percent of the Global GDP in 2023 and 79.2 percent of global GDP growth throughout the past decade. This is not to say developed nations are unbeknown to poverty and significant wealth gaps between the rich and the poor; it instead indicates the greater availability of wealth overall. Therefore, purchasing luxuries becomes overly accessible, leading to levels of overconsumption far beyond our needs.
One prominent example of our environmental neglect is seen in the fashion industry. The lifespan of fashion trends lasts approximately one year, making the production of low-quality, cheaply made garments the only long-lasting trend. This constant closet revamp keeps landfill growth steady. Unsurprisingly, 92 million tonnes of the 100 billion clothes manufactured every year become waste, and this number is expected to increase to 134 million tonnes by 2030. Although fast fashion enterprises should be held responsible for their environmental and humanitarian violations, our part in the continuation of this cycle must be acknowledged.
Whilst our direct contribution to fast fashion is quite clear-cut, the same cannot be said about other industries, such as energy and food. The majority of what happens behind the scenes is not under individual control. Realistically, basic household provisions and standard living necessities cannot be eradicated. Travel and transportation are integral to today’s globalized world. However, an individual’s actions are not inconsequential. Taking shorter showers, only buying food you need to prevent food waste, turning your lights and heating off when possible, and choosing more environmentally friendly transportation options are important when it comes down to the individual level.
These changes may not be the ultimate solution, but neither is mindlessly blaming the corporations behind large industries. We cannot control the actions of others, but we can make decisions that influence those companies’ steps forward. Those passionate about politics can acquire governmental positions that allow them to enforce environmental policies, such as rebates for companies’ environmentally-friendly practices and for individuals who power their homes with solar panels or choose electric cars. Extra taxes can be tacked onto gas or high-emission vehicles and the government can ban single-use plastics.
Altogether, these efforts may seem small, but they reinforce the fact that climate change is a collective problem facing humanity and the earth as a whole. It is certainly important to put pressure on big corporations to change their ways, but that passion to improve one’s environmental decisions begins at the individual level. Global warming is not an “us vs. them” problem, and it is this very mentality that withholds us from actively exploring viable solutions. The collaboration of the organizational and individual levels is imperative to create an effective action plan. You and I may seem less at fault for climate change than big corporations, but it truly does not matter; our fight is not against one another. We have an opportunity to conquer a problem that humanity as a whole must be held accountable for, but that can only be achieved through collaboration, not blame.