Humans have changed the world throughout history and have evolved along the way. Undoubtedly, the greatest cultural change of our time is environmentalism. Although it is virtuous to combat climate change, the main actions we take in doing so must be stopped.  

The issue at its core is about how industry shifted the blame of pollution and waste onto consumers. In the beginning, a majority of beverage manufactures would recollect used bottles through deposit-refund systems and then wash and reuse them, but, in the 1950’s, some major beverage companies switched to disposable bottles as they allowed for greater profits.   This led to many protests against them and political action such as Vermont’s bill banning the sale of beer in disposable bottles that same year as cows and other animals were dying due to plastic consumption and the fear of a landfill crisis. In 1953, Coca Cola, the American Can Co., the Owens Illinois Glass Co., and the Dixie Cup Co. founded Keep America Beautiful to deal with the industry targeted attacks by the public and government and started broadcasting ads with Susan Spotless accusing her parents of littering, popularized the term “litterbug,” and, in 1971, broadcast the famous ‘Crying Indian’ ad. The ‘Crying Indian’ quickly became one of the most circulated commercials in history and its message,” People start pollution and people stop it,” successfully shifted the environmental blame from industry to consumers as seen by the repeal of nearly every act to limit disposable bottles and the end of protests.  

”Crying Indian” Commercial

After this shift of blame, recycling was made as a way to deal with disposable bottles and items, but corporations used it as a way to make more money while maintaining a positive, environmental image. Although we should all be recycling, the way we do it is wrong and confusing. This is apparent in how recycling laws vary from state to state and even county to county.

    And even though recycling plants could change their methods and make it more efficient and better or consumers, it wouldn’t be in their interest since some of the largest and most dominant recycling plants are owned by landfill companies as reported by the New York Times. According to the New York Times, when there is public confusion on recyclables and aspirational recycling, contamination occurs and landfills generate large profits and avoid the expensive process of processing recyclables and the low purchases of recycled material. When the waste management industry is expected to be more than double the worth of the recycling industry, corporations don’t have any incentives to change their ways. Along with that, the Keep America Beautiful program has now started pushing consumer recycling even though they don’t give sufficient funding to recycling centers and exaggerate the benefits of recycling. In reality, Popular Mechanics states that most recycled waste is “down cycled” to less useful products and in the last 50 years the use of plastic increased 20 times while only 9% of plastics made since 1950 had been recycled according to the Washington Post. Along with that, the EPA states that both reducing and reusing are more effective than recycling as they don’t create waste like recycling does. 

Another prominent example of environmentalism are the “eco-friendly” products flooding the market. The surge of electric cars, recycled utensils, etc. would never be enough to effectively slow down climate change and can be worse to the environment. For example, if someone were to buy a new Tesla electric car while they had a perfectly working car with decent fuel consumption, they would be increasing their carbon footprint to the point where the savings of an electric car would be offset. Along with that, the production of electric car batteries require rare earth metals that often come from environmentally destructive mines that exploit child labor, and if an electric car is charged from a coal power plant, it can be releasing more CO2 than a hybrid. All in all, The Guardian reports that if everyone switched their current car for a new electric, the global carbon footprint would actually increase. Buying new, environmental products will never end climate change since buying products is the main issue. Instead, we should be reducing and reusing what we have to limit waste and extra CO2 emissions.

For example, in some cases, walking can be worse for the environment than driving since it takes 54 cal. of energy (usually traced back to fossil fuels) to produce 1 cal. of beef protein which, depending on the weight and consumption of the eater, can be 2 – ⅔ more wasteful than driving. Along with that, many vegetables, such as asparagus and out-of-season produce, can have high carbon footprints as well due to airborne transportation. Aside from this, it can be almost impossible to calculate the carbon footprint of anything. For instance, to calculate the carbon footprint of a pillow, you would have to calculate the carbon emissions from birds that were used for the down feathers, the feed used for birds, the machines used to process the grain into feed, the resources to make the grain, the trucks used to transport the grain, the metal used in the truck, the mines used to find the metal, the uniforms of the workers, the homes of the workers, the can that their food came in, and many other factors. Thus it is almost impossible for any individual to have the information needed to optimize their life to have the lowest carbon footprint.

    In conclusion, the ways we are using to fight climate change are impractical. Since the discovery of fossil fuels, we have built our entire society around the resource and, to combat climate change, we would need to change our entire way of life. Instead of trying to take individual actions, we need to focus on large corporations and international involvement which, as seen by the Paris agreement, is possible. All of us need to fight this battle together and, by holding companies and politicians accountable for more progressive measures and supporting radical propositions like the Green New Deal, we can hopefully slow down and eradicate climate change. 

Counterclaim: Even though what was stated is true, these actions do have possible applications. This can be seen by recycling, which is a developing industry and is continuing to progress and new methods allow for recycling to be more efficient and useful. Along with that, electric cars can greatly reduce a person’s carbon emissions if they have an outdated car or one with low fuel efficiency. Although it is necessary for everyone to participate in the measures we already have to be more environmentally conscious–such as recycling, not littering, reusing, conserving, etc.–, it will not be enough to stop climate change without further progress and more actions.

Sources:

https://wewantrefill.com/aspirational-recycling-when-good-intentions-have-harsh-consequences

https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-indian-crying-environment-ads-pollution-1123-20171113-story.html

https://www.uvm.edu/~vlrs/Environment/bottlebill.pdf

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/02/a-pocket-history-of-bottle-recycling/273575/

https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a3757/4291576/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1057740812000381

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1016/j.jcps.2012.04.001

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/20/by-2050-there-will-be-more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-worlds-oceans-study-says/

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/reducing-and-reusing-basics

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-global-waste-management-market-size-is-expected-to-reach-484-9-billion-by-2025-from-303-6-billion-in-2017–growing-at-a-cagr-of-6-0-from-2018-to-2025–300874655.html

https://slate.com/technology/2013/09/how-green-is-a-tesla-electric-cars-environmental-impact-depends-on-where-you-live.html

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/sep/23/carbon-footprint-new-car

https://www.wired.com/2016/03/teslas-electric-cars-might-not-green-think/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/dec/16/apple-and-google-named-in-us-lawsuit-over-congolese-child-cobalt-mining-deaths

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/june-22-is-your-wi-fi-watching-you-dog-s-manipulative-eyebrows-darwin-s-finches-in-danger-and-more-1.5182752/do-electric-cars-take-more-co2-to-build-than-they-save-1.5182753

https://www.businessinsider.com/walking-may-be-worse-for-the-environment-than-driving-2013-11

https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

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