Shell, a multibillion dollar oil and gas company, recently tweeted asking, “What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?” Let that sink in.
I hope you’re feeling just as appalled – and even angry – as I felt. Here is a company in the industry that is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases and contributors to climate change asking us what we are doing to reduce emissions.
Asking ourselves what we can do on a daily basis to reduce our carbon footprint is definitely important. There are so many small things that we can do. These range from using reusable containers and bags to taking public transportation instead of driving. These things add up, and a change in our society’s mindset makes a real difference.
What I have a problem with is that Shell is the one who was asking. By posing the question, they’re shifting the blame away from them and onto the public.
They’re implying that the problem was created by us and not them. They’re implying that it is not only our responsibility to fix it, but that we alone have that power. That is a very dangerous mentality. Shell’s tweet is a perfect example of a concerning trend in how we, as a society, are handling climate change: putting the blame on consumers and individuals.
Let’s pause for a second and try to give Shell the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had good intentions. After all, the question itself was a good one. They also accepted some blame: directly after the first tweet, they wrote, “As for our part, we said last week that Shell will reshape its portfolio of assets and products to meet the cleaner energy needs of its customers in the coming decades.”
That sounds vague, but still could be good. However, if you’ve been alive for a while, you have probably learned that huge corporations almost never do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. There is an ulterior motive here – they’re trying to project an image of being green in order to gain consumer support.
I don’t have a problem with that in and of itself. As individuals, we have the ability to vote with our money. If we refuse to shop for someone or use a company’s services because they aren’t environmentally friendly, we can force them to change. If Shell were bowing to the power and pressure of the consumer, and working towards using sustainable energy sources, I wouldn’t have a problem with their motive.
The problem is that while Shell pretends to be working towards a more sustainable business model, they aren’t. They publicly support the Paris Agreement while spending millions lobbying to block climate change legislation (they spent $49 million in 2019). They put up a facade to gain support without having to forgo their profits, this is called greenwashing.
Becoming Increasingly Conscious Of Our Actions
Recently, there has been a huge spike in how conscious we are about how our actions affect the environment. There are millions of articles and videos on how to be environmentally friendly in our daily lives. There are carbon footprint calculators all over the internet.
All of this is great, but these changes are only feasible for those who are more fortunate.
How can you take public transportation if it doesn’t exist where you live? How can you avoid packaging while shopping when the only store nearby is a Walmart?
At this point in time, we have to put a lot of effort into being individually environmentally friendly. And that’s not sustainable for even the most dedicated. We need to be putting more effort into changing our society, so it doesn’t take any effort to be sustainable.
Shifting the Blame Back
For too long, we have been asking what individuals can do to stop climate change. Corporations have been encouraging this, seeing it as a way to shift the blame away from themselves. That is why Shell asked individuals to do more to reduce emissions. And to some extent, it’s working.
We are disappointed with ourselves when we use plastic. Instead, let’s get angry at the companies that unnecessarily wrap that food in plastic and burn coal to make electricity. Let’s get angry at our governments for failing to provide effective legislation and provide good public transportation.
90 companies caused two-thirds of human carbon emissions. We need to start pointing fingers at those who deserve it. It is time to hold our governments and corporations accountable.
What You Can Do
The key to controlling cooperations is climate change legislation. Oil companies may spend millions lobbying our politicians, but the government still must listen to us. If our politicians ignore us, we vote them out.
If we want to get involved, vote for local and national candidates who are dedicated to fighting climate change and write to your representatives (Sierra Club, the NRDC, and The Nature Conservancy make it easy.) I also recommend checking out Sunrise Movement,.
Two-thirds of Americans believe that the government needs to do more to protect the environment. It is time for us to force politicians to represent Americans rather than multibillion-dollar oil companies.