Who should we blame for climate change? For the plastic trash in the oceans? For the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest?
Is it the individual?
Is it the corporations?
That’s one question that, if not answered correctly, can quickly get you de-friended and un-followed, severely affecting your social media standing). It elicits some strong opinions in support of one side or the other.
But consider this… The question of whether the individual or the corporation is responsible is…..
Because you can’t separate individuals from corporations. Both depend on each other and both feed into each other.
Might sounds like a crazy idea, but bear with me for a moment….
Aren’t individuals the ones who work for corporations? Aren’t individuals the ones who buy the products and services the corporations offer? Aren’t we, the individual consumers, the reason these corporations exist in the first place and keep doing what they are doing?
Let’s take the oil and gas industry as an example. (Just because they happen to be the biggest methane emitters in the U.S.)
Why are they emitting methane?
Because they are drilling for oil and the drilling process emits methane.
Why are they drilling for oil?
Because they can sell it for a profit. A HUGE profit! And who wouldn’t want $$$???
Why can they sell it for a profit?
Because we, the individuals, are addicted to oil.
You might be thinking, Me? An oil addict? I don’t think so!
That’s what I thought too. Until I realized that beyond the obvious activities of driving, flying, or cruising, EVERYTHING else I do and use involves oil (even sitting here, typing on my laptop involves oil).
Oil is the source of energy that often powers our homes, climate control systems, and our electronic devices.
Oil allows us to create consumer products–anything from our plastic bags to jeans to deodorant to contact lenses to bottled water. (In the U.S. alone, we use 2 million barrels of oil per year just to make bottled water, even though we have perfectly good tap water available.)
Definitely an oil addiction!
And the corporations are happy to supply us!
Changing Our Ways.
By purchasing all of these oil-based products and services, we are complicit in the corporation’s destruction of our planet. We are the ones who are allowing and encouraging it to happen. We are part of that cycle.
What if we stopped wanting all this oil-guzzling stuff and ceased doing some of these oil-guzzling activities?
Maybe, we wouldn’t need as much oil?
Maybe, these corporations would drill less?
Now, I know what many of you are going to say.
This isn’t an addiction.
I have a family to take care of. I have to drive a car–how else would I get to work to earn the money to take care of my family? I need to make a living!
Plus, I need a house to live in. I need furniture in that house.
I need to buy a nice wardrobe for work.
Then eventually, I need to take a vacation. I work so hard. I deserve a break!
The cycle of consumption is killing us. And it doesn’t seem like there is a way out!
Yet, more and more people are rejecting this model and finding a different, possibly better, way.
The FIRE Movement has shown that it is possible to work for a decade or so, drastically decrease consumption to the minimum during that time (without decreasing happiness) and in the process save enough money to retire in your 30s or 40s.
And then continue the rest of your life with fairly low consumption. Never again having to go to a job you don’t like (which should in itself decrease the amount of oil-guzzling products you use as you will no longer have to commute to work).
OK, yes, the FIRE Movement might seem extreme to some people. It does require saving more than 50% of your income, which actually leaves you with little money to purchase those oil intensive products.
However, look around your home. How much of the stuff that’s there do you actually need? How much could you live without? How much of it have you not even touched or used for years? Do you even remember what you have stored in all those boxes in the closet and basement?
Yet, we spent money on all of these things and became part of the corporation’s environmentally destructive cycle when buying it.
Speaking of all this stuff, here’s another way we are complicit in the corporations’ environmental destruction.
When we buy stuff, we want it to be cheap.
Why pay $100 for jeans, when you can pay $20? Yet those $20 jeans were made in a country that doesn’t care about environmental standards and releases a ton of methane and other toxic by-products.
And we don’t want just one pair to last us a decade. We need 5 new pairs. Every single year. And that behavior makes us part of the corporation’s cycle and complicit in the environmental destruction.
If we eliminated all waste in our life, purchased only what we truly needed, how much less oil would need to be ripped from the earth? From future generations?
To Change the World, Change Yourself.
So, since I’ve hopefully helped establish that the question of who is responsible is an irrelevant question, how do we move forward?
By taking inventory of our own behaviors and focusing on changing our own actions.
I can see where my consumption is excessive. Where I am using more resources than necessary to live happily.
Luckily, I am the CEO of my own life and I can make whatever changes are needed. For me, these changes focus on doing less of the things that keep corporations emitting more methane.
How will that positively affect the world and the problems we face?
I look to Marie Kondo, organizer extraordinaire, for the answer to this question.
Marie Kondo presents a situation in her book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. A reader voraciously devours her book on tidying and she goes on to tidy the entire home.
Except, the reader lives with another person (a roommate, a significant other, family) and THAT person isn’t interested in tidying up. (They have not yet seen the light.) In fact, that person loves to live in clutter.
So what does Marie Kondo suggest?
Leave them alone and focus on YOU.
Keep YOUR space tidy. Take care of YOUR own stuff. And as others see you tidying up your stuff and living a happier, stress-free life, they will want the same for themselves and will eventually tidy up.
I don’t have access to the CEOs of all of these corporations to tell them to stop destroying the environment. I’m not going to go to Washington to lobby for policy changes.
But I can tidy up the oil consumption in my own life and be a better example for others.
Some people may think that is pointless. Maybe.
But I strongly believe that change starts with one person.
A person like you!
Happy Zero Wasting!