The Individual vs. Climate Change

The Individual vs. Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing our generation, but how do we tackle it?

We are all aware that the impending threat of climate change is one of the most important issues facing our generation. However, the impact of individual action has recently been called into question in the face of the astronomical consumption of fossil fuels by big corporations.Around the world, 71% of emissions are produced by 100 companies alone, suggesting that our attempts to curb our own carbon footprints are ultimately hopeless if these businesses continue to pollute our atmosphere unchecked.

This domination of the market at the hands of big gas guzzling businesses stems from a Thatcherite policy of economic neoliberalism, which prioritises the needs of the individual and the consumer above those of society as a whole.With government backing, these companies have been able to exercise total control over the market while their environmental policies remain largely uncontrolled and often neglected.The privatisation of industries such as railways and utilities, as well as undermining the power of trade unions, have ignited an ideological war against collective action. A cultural shift is needed, one which will empower society to work together to force corporations to take environmental issues seriously.

While cycling to uni and drinking from reusable coffee cups is no bad thing, this is virtually ineffective in comparison to the actionthat needs to be taken by these business heavyweights. This does not mean that we should disregard our personal and community efforts entirely. UCL and fellow London universitiesImperial and King’s have recently pledged their support to the 50by2020 campaign, aiming to make 50% of the food consumed on campus vegan by 2020. It may seem like a small step in comparison to the extensive amount of pollution London produces, but reducing the amount of meat we eat even by just 25% would save 2000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year.If every institution was to make changes like this, these supposedly small steps would add up to something much bigger in the long-term.

We must practise what we preach. One of the aims of UCL’s Environmental Sustainability Vision is to “enable and support UCL staff and students, through action, to address UCL’s environmental impacts”, while also setting targets on their main objectives, such as reducing pollution and minimising waste. If the individual contributions of every UCL student to tackle climate change were considered pointless, then these goals would never be met. An environmental conscience has become necessary in facing up to the very real threat of catastrophic change for our planet and, as such, it has become something we must followthrough with in every aspect of our lives.

The need for educated consumerism has forced us to adapt our shopping habits, whether that is through buying more ethically sourced produce, or making even simpler changes. For instance, the introduction of the 5p charge on plastic shopping bags has saved 15 billion plastic bags from usage, preventing extra carbon dioxide emissions, curbing the prevalence of single use plastic, and stopping more plastic from destroying our natural spaces. The fact that the government is now planning to raise the amount to 10p, and to also roll the charge out across all shops rather than just the big retailers, is proof that combining each individual effort can create a much bigger change.

Of course, it is still true that a mass cut of industrial fossil fuel consumption should be atop priority. By adopting a more environmentally friendly stance that permeates every aspect of our lives, however small, we are on the way to helping create a society that cares. Making these slight adjustments will not solve all our problems, but they represent the beginning of a fundamental change that needs to take place in our culture. By disregarding the importance of the communal impact, we are encouraging the kind of self-centredness that originally helped to create this problem.If we are to deal with the problem of individualism, a more positive attitude needs to pervade the collective psyche. Acting together gives a sense of empowerment, no matter how big or small the cause may be. As the generation who will suffer far more from the consequences of climate change than those at the helm of big business, it is essential that we recognise this, both for the benefit of ourselves and future generations to come.

This article was originally published in Issue 723 of Pi Magazine.

Photography by Dione Sarantinou