The majority of us seem to continue to explain away our incredibly unsustainable lifestyles when it comes to the environment. It is as if, despite numerous protests which are again making headlines, and a plethora of scientific research affirming the harm we continue to inflict upon the planet where we all live, that we are still not able to accept the climate emergency the planet is facing, and how dire the consequences will be.
Perhaps because the issue is so large and no one individual or group can be held wholly accountable, we can satisfy our moral sense of duty by sheepishly claiming that any measures we do take on an individual level will have no great impact, and it is therefore acceptable for us to perpetuate our unsustainable lifestyles. A 2017 study found that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. This demonstrates that, unfortunately, efforts made by well-meaning environmentally conscious individuals are simply insufficient to abate the harm done to the environment by industry. It is perhaps the complaisance and passivity of collective society though, that has allowed industry to remain disengaged and to continue environmentally unscrupulous practices, largely unchallenged until relatively recently.
It is possibly a testament to human nature that we are slow to rouse ourselves to action when it comes to threats that are not immediately tangible in our everyday lives; society has adopted a similar attitude when it comes to other threats facing the planet which have not yet fully materialised, such as antibiotic resistance. Our refusal to accept the severity of impending global issues offers an extremely bleak vision of humanity’s future. The government’s investment in practices dangerous to the environment, most notably fracking, in spite of the wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating it to be dangerous to the planet, is not only indicative of a cavalier attitude towards the environment, but – perhaps unsurprisingly – a clear priority of meeting short-term economic goals over the long-term health of the planet.
Government legislation has the potential to bring about positive environmental change; put simply, if the products and practices most harmful to the environment are restricted, the environment cannot deteriorate as quickly. The sale of plastic bags to shoppers by the biggest seven supermarkets in Britain has decreased by 90% since the mandatory five pence charge was enforced from October 2015 (The Guardian). This plummet in sales, however, is most likely due to shoppers being reluctant to spend money on each shopping bag used, rather than a collective consciousness responding to environmental threats. When we consider many other single-use plastics remain so freely available, the progress made with plastic bag reduction is somewhat undermined. It is simply astounding from an environmental and scientific perspective how many non-recyclable plastics continue to be available to be used and discarded liberally. What will it take for reason to triumph over deeply instilled human selfishness? In a society with so much information readily available at its fingertips, it is impossible to claim ignorance when confronted with environmental issues.
As the threats facing the planet continue to be minimised by those in power, whether that be the government, the UN or CEOs, many of us are left posing the question if not now, when? When will our society accept that for too long it has minimised the threats the planet is facing? Change is coming; it is simply a question of whether we will instigate these changes consciously or whether in our not-too-distant future we will be forced to adapt by a warming planet with dwindling resources.
This article was written by Yasmin Robson and edited by Lucy Shell.