Do Your Choices Even Matter, or Is It Up to the Government to Save the Planet?

You know, most folks don’t like that the Earth’s flooding, droughting, and climate changing into a hellscape. They don’t like the fact that our CO2 emissions are through the roof and that our global temp will probably rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius. In all honesty, most people would rather that everything was just chill. 

So, with that in mind, some humans want to take the climate crisis into their own hands. They want to reduce their emissions as much as possible. However, they don’t know what steps to take to do this.

Enter: Australian Ethical Investment. This company has teamed up with UTS Business School of Research and Lonergan Research to release A Little Goes a Long Way. Which, surprisingly, isn’t the name of an obscure Dr Seuss kid’s book.

A Little Goes a Long Way is one-part report, one-part Australian Ethical advert, and unpacks the ways in which Aussies can reduce their own carbon footprints.

“The research tells us that many Australians care about climate change, so much so that 96% of them are taking action to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Maria Loyez, the CEO of Australian Ethical.

“But many people are not sure about the amount of CO2e emissions generated through various everyday actions.”

This brings us to Australian Ethical’s conclusions. Without any further ado, here are the top five things they outlined that you can do to reduce your own climate footprint:

  1. You could switch to using solar panels at home. 
  2. You could switch to a renewable energy plan. 
  3. You could avoid taking one international flight each year.
  4. You could make sustainable and ethical investments. 
  5. You could stop driving your car.

“We punch well above our weight as individuals when it comes to CO2e emissions, and we really hope that this information will help people realise what small changes they can make in their own lives to fight climate change,” said Loyez.

Does a Little Really Go a Long Way?

While Australian Ethical’s report has some useful ideas, it’s worth noting that there’s a gaping hole at its core. This is because it predominantly encourages individuals to change their habits, rather than telling them to protest the destructive actions of our governments and corporate climate killers.

According to A Little Goes a Long Way, an Aussie person produces an average of 15.4 tonnes of CO2e each year. Meanwhile, in 2021, Rio Tinto produced 31,100,000 tonnes of CO2e.

This means that if I was a carbon-neutral boy back in 2021, my impact would have been negligible compared to that of Rio Tinto. There’s no getting around it, there’s an intergalactic difference between how much CO2 you and a mining company create.

As Morten Fibieger Byskov, a Postdoctoral Researcher in International Politics, said, “Climate change is a planetary-scale threat and, as such, requires planetary-scale reforms that can only be implemented by the world’s governments. Individuals can at most be responsible for their own behaviour, but governments have the power to implement legislation that compels industries and individuals to act sustainably.”

“Although the power of consumers is strong, it pales in comparison to that of international corporations, and only governments have the power to keep these interests in check.”

The University of Warwick member also said, “Asking individuals to bear the burden of global warming shifts the responsibilities from those who are meant to protect to those who are meant to be protected. We need to hold governments to their responsibilities first and foremost.”

Related: The Climate Council Has Dropped 10 Ideas to Save Australia

Related: The Battle for The Great Barrier Reef — Meet the People Trying to Save an Australian Icon

Does This Mean That Small Changes Are Pointless?

So, now that we’ve established that mining operations like Rio Tinto are chungus-sized, and we are tiny, does it mean that we should just let our Earth break? No, of course, it doesn’t.

Installing solar panels in your home is a good thing to do. Riding your bike to work is a good thing to do. They just have to be the first steps that you take, not the last. While your voice might be small on its own, it can be amplified in a climate protest.  

Yup, if you want the planet to survive, you should attend some climate-based rallies or join a climate-based organisation. Because collective action actually works.

A great example of such collective action working comes from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. This is because this group has made some incredibly meaningful changes to the fabric of Australia.

“The first campaign I ever had was in twenty-seventeen,” said a former member, Samantha James. “Westpac pulled out of funding the Adani coal mine but also of investing in any new thermal coal projects.”

“You know, if we stop these projects going forward, then we’re stopping literally billions of tons of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. It’s very empowering. It removes that feeling of helplessness.”

Therefore, if you want to make the planet a better place, not taking one international flight is a fine thing to do. But being on the front lines of this fight is a ton more meaningful.

In Australian Ethical’s Defence

To be fair, Australian Ethical does somewhat acknowledge the limitations of their report.

“We know the concept of a ‘personal carbon footprint’ is polarising.” they write. “It was coined by an advertising agency on behalf of BP who popularised the term to help shift the focus off the fossil fuel producer and direct it towards the consumer.”

Moreover, on page 42 of their report, they suggest that you lobby your local Member of Parliament for Australia to further embrace renewable forms of energy. 

However, the majority of this report emphasises all the ways personal responsibility matters. And such an emphasis on personal responsibility might over-hype its importance in the minds of some people. 

Yes, as previously noted, being environmentally conscious day-to-day is mint. If enough people do it, the products we consume might even change over time. Nevertheless, such changes create ripples, and governments and campaigns can create tidal waves. 

“While individuals may have a role to play, appealing to individual virtues for addressing climate change is something akin to victim-blaming because it shifts the burden from those who ought to act to those who are most likely to be affected by climate change,” said Byskov. “A far more just and effective approach would be to hold those who are responsible for climate change accountable for their actions.”

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