Eaton: The unintended consequences of making sustainability mainstream

Remember, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism.

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Emily Eaton

It’s no secret that our climate is changing. As the Earth warms, it’s important to live life conscientiously and understand the environmental impact of your actions. With that being said, I despise the majority of “zero-waste-sustainable-vegan-no-plastic-ever” Instagram influencers for many, many reasons. The American Psychological Association produced a 69-page climate change guide to help mental health care providers navigate the growing numbers of young adults suffering from anxiety over climate change, so it’s clear that we don’t need anyone in our faces or our feeds telling us that we’re not doing enough.

Before you trade your morning bacon for an acai bowl, let’s look at the facts.

Exxon Mobil, an oil and gas company, was informed by its own researchers of the damages of climate change as early as the 1980s. That’s almost 40 years ago. You might be asking yourself, “Why didn’t they do something about it?” Well, they did. The company turned around, invested in climate denial and ensured that the research wouldn’t be easily discoverable. Capitalism, baby!

According to a 2017 Carbon Majors Database, 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to a mere 100 companies. Biking to work instead of driving is going to cut down on your carbon footprint, but it won’t stop the fossil fuel industry. The quotidian citizen is not the primary perpetrator of climate change.

The trendy environmentalism of today still struggles to accurately represent the intersectionality of racial, environmental and economic inequalities. Many of the practices espoused by social media influencers have been gentrified and greenwashed. Sustainability has become trendy, and, with its trendiness, it has grown elitist. There is a growing connection between environmentalism and wealth. As sustainability grows as an industry, demand inflates prices for eco-friendly clothing, furniture and accessories, pushing this lifestyle further out of range for most. A study by the Scarborough Research Center found that people earning above $150,000 a year were far more likely to engage in environmentally friendly practices.

The reality is that many of us simply do not have the time or resources to devote ourselves fully to an environmentally conscious lifestyle. Eating healthy, organic foods is significantly more expensive than buying frozen vegetables in bulk from the grocery store. Sustainable clothing brands are often double or triple the price of fast fashion. Even energy efficient light bulbs, though they may save money in the long run, have a higher initial cost than regular light bulbs.

This is not to say that making environmentally conscious choices is a fruitless endeavor. If you have the time and the resources, reducing your personal carbon footprint is important. But, don’t feel ashamed or intimidated if you don’t turn into a vegan, recycling queen overnight. Small changes, like composting, bringing reusable grocery bags to the store or picking one day a week to go “meatless,” can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by your lifestyle.

At the end of the day, it is the people in power who determine whether or not we allow our planet to heal. Consider using your spare resources to donate to intersectional environmental justice campaigns, like the Sunrise Movement. Vote for politicians who support the Green New Deal, and vote out those who continue to take money from the fossil fuel industry. It’s time to reduce the number of climate change deniers in power, (re)use our voices and recycle!

No, seriously. Please recycle.